Empty Chairs -by Barbara Fleming


Mortality is an inescapable fact of human existence; aging brings it into sharp focus. Recently I have seen more and more empty chairs among my circle of friends. How dear they all were to me.

Jane always sat perfectly straight. She was a cat woman if ever there was one; she devoted her later years to the welfare of cats— fostering kittens, adopting strays, volunteering at a cat shelter. Jane was intense, passionate, opinionated and outspoken, and no one ever had a truer or more loyal friend. 

Jean grew day lilies and wrote books. She tended lovingly to her aging cat, volunteered at the Gardens at Spring Creek, and faced each day with curiosity and humor. Her quick wit endeared her to anyone who knew her and her smile, when earned, warmed one’s heart.  She was a bright light dimmed too soon.

Nancy’s seat was a piano bench. A fine pianist, she played in church for years. Nancy had a robust, memorable laugh, a great sense of humor, a highly tuned sense of indignation about injustice, and a habit of speaking her mind. She was an excellent writer, a loving mother and devoted grandmother, a caring wife and a faithful friend.  She was a dog person as well as a passionate advocate for her chosen causes. She lived richly and fully every day.

Dona was a musician, too. A teacher and school principal before she retired, she nearly always found something to be happy about. She lived in the present as much as anyone I have ever known. She never dwelled on past sorrows and losses. She poured her heart and soul into whatever she chose to involve herself in. She was generous and kind and cheerful; like the Cheshire cat, her smile was the last part of her to fade away.

Coming more recently to the circle was Susan, a lover of words like me. Her smile would light up the room; she was even-tempered, cheerful and keenly intelligent, always seeking to learn new things. Adventurous, she loved to travel and often went on long hikes with her husband. Her creativity came out in the costumes she sewed for her grandchildren and her ways of playing with them. They constantly delighted her. 

Margaret—never have I known anyone quite like her. She loved to tell tales of her childhood and adventurous youth. She was fearless, managing to leave a bad marriage with two small children in tow to make her way back to the United States and start anew. She was open and friendly and completely her true self all the time: What you saw was who she was. Despite many traumas and losses in her life, she forged ahead from day to day, living the best life she could and spreading love and friendship around like flower petals. 

A longtime friend, Gretchen was the embodiment of courage and determination. She overcame many obstacles in her life and met a diagnosis of chronic disease with calm and fortitude. As long as possible she would not let it keep her from doing what she wanted to do—travel, even as far as Japan, go to plays and performances, attend church regularly.  She adapted to the altered circumstances in her life better than most, accepting what she could not change. She was a loyal friend and a good person through and through.

So have they all left empty chairs behind—but I fill those chairs now with warm memories of good times together, of companionship and support, and of shared joys, sorrows, laughter and love. I am grateful to have had them in my life and, as my own mortality approaches, to have been enriched by these very different and very special individuals. Each brought with her unique and memorable gifts, and each one has left an imprint on my heart.

Barbara Fleming is a local author and editor. Her most recent published book, Hidden History of Fort Collins, is available at local bookstores and on Amazon.com. Her newest novel, My Name Is Meggie, will be published later this year. You can visit her at her website  https://www.authorbarbarafleming.com