A large proportion of our church congregation (Catholic) are widows. Not because, statistically, women live longer than men, but due to the area we live in. Being rather poor the men, frequently not strong due to wars, overwork and malnutrition, took to smoking, alcohol, and died young. Most of us are creatures of habit, and once the children have left we have our own chairs.
I've just talked to my eldest son, whose birthday it is today – had a lovely treat all day, now, he is facing his wife, in beautiful armchairs, in front of a log fire, waiting for an Indian takeaway.
The chair opposite mine (which is a junk heap of knitting, current magazines and SUDOKU) is empty. Its emptiness is the cause of my consuming a half bottle of champagne. My husband (as most Moodscopers know) is in the advanced stages of Alzheimers. That empty chair means two weeks of freedom. For the last fortnight it has been nothing but grumbles and abuse. But, if I can't cope, and the chair must remain empty, will it haunt me?
Every time the screen saver comes up on my computer, the first picture is of my husband, when we first met, he 18, me 13. He is driving an ancient tractor, with a binder cutting corn and leaving it in sheaves. The difference between that young man and the shambling, miserable wreck who occupies that other chair is ?? I would need a whole Thesaurus for the right adjective.
But to return to these widows, bereaved suddenly by an accident or heart attack, or a long debilitating illness, how do you cope with this real severance?
Most, through necessity, have to move to somewhere smaller, from their farm into the town, into an old People's home, with a son or daughter if that option is available. If they stay in the marital home – do you give that chair away? Change the furniture?
A poignant loss as great as the empty chair is that few widows here ever had the chance to drive – their husband dies, and they are seriously dependent on friends and family – because there is no public transport. Moodscope has turned a lot on grief recently, that 'empty chair' is symptomatic of loss.
A Moodscope member.