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Apr25
2016

The Weight of an Empty Chair

By Brian Allen

He entered my life like a cyclone – a spinning top uncoiling the lack of comfort in his sixteen-year-old skin.

There were road trips to see the bands that made us feel most alive, late nights and dawn-choruses on empty streets. I remember the boy who wanted to know what steam smelt like, the one who inhaled over a boiling kettle and removed his nose hair in the process.

There was the student who interpreted an architectural lecture about how a particular statue was designed to make it impossible to climb as an invitation to try (Yes, that involved the folly of youth and a night in a jail cell).

There was the sense of homecoming I experienced when we headed to the hills for a day of snowboarding after I’d spent six months feeling lost and unsure of whom I was as I landed my first job in an unfamiliar city far from all that I knew to be true.

There was a palpable communion as we traded tales with tight skin on our rosy cheeks in the warmth of a pizzeria after that day on the slopes.

I remember the longhaired apparition that sprung on me from a dark alley chasing me with a bucket of flour and cold baked beans on my stag night. I remember the phone call the next morning when he checked in to make sure that the concoction hadn’t ruined my favorite jacket or Vans.

I also distinctly remember pacing a hospital parking lot making phone calls to friends and relatives heralding in the safe arrival of my son.

I remember the moment of clarity when I realized that most people in the vicinity were not receiving good news. Within minutes my life was forever changed with the devastating syntax of a single text message. On the morning when our son burst into the world amongst gasps for air, cries, and blood, another mother crumpled in shock as she discovered the body of her own first-born son.

The news spread quickly. Long-lost friendships were rekindled through grief and social media. A family-only funeral left us wrestling with the tension of closure and a sense of guilt – guilt born from wanting to know the details in order to try and make sense of the chaos. There were months of questioning whether our own motives were selfish.

The truth is that I had previously battled my own demons. There had been dark nights of the soul, times of recurring dreams, and a longing for deep eternal rest when I was more than tired of life – times where I never once thought of the impact of those who loved me. But on that fateful day I became one of the latter, someone who was left behind.

All of these years later, there’s rarely a day that passes that I don’t think of him in some manner. Every birthday I celebrate with my son is bittersweet. There is still the weight of an empty chair at the table. Even now, I feel it so profoundly every time I pass that pizzeria at the foot of the mountains.

People talk about how life takes on a whole new dimension or an amplified color after a near-death experience. For me the loss of a dear friend to suicide became that near-death experience. I am still here: alive and awake and regularly overcome by the beauty and fragility of it all.

If you are battling your own dark nights, if you feel that longing, please think about the weight of that empty chair. Please know that there is always a space at the table. Please remember that there are always tales to be traded and food to be shared. Even when it feels like crumbs, those meals can become feasts without the crushing weight of an empty place setting.

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Comments (29)

  1. Anne Jackson

    So beautifully written. I am sorry for your loss. I am happy that your chair is still filled. Thank you for your courage to write from your heart!

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    1. Brian Allen

      Thank you. Anne. I am approaching my son’s 6th birthday which also marks the 6th anniversary of the loss of my dear friend, Graeme. Whilst it is little substitute, those events catapulted me on to see each day as a gift and to see what I can gift to others by being honest, inviting them into my story and seeking to create a safe place of mutual respect and trust where they could share some of theirs too if they wanted to. The wooden table in our home and the seats around it are the most important investment we have ever made. May people regularly feel welcome and may our door always be open. May that be true for you too. Grace and peace, Brian.

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  2. zoya

    People say that everything in life happens for a reason. I really wish, I knew what that reason is. No one deserves to be depressed or feel alone.

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    1. Brian Allen

      Thank you Zonya. I have written another piece about my own bout with depression. For years I tried to make sense of why I found myself in that situation or to try and find a tidy reason. It took a long time and I’d given up on that quest as something trite. Years down the line and I find myself regularly talking about these things and sharing experiences and stories first hand with others. Maybe Renee was right and there is a purpose for the pain. If that’s not where you are right now, please find people who’s company you enjoy. Spend time with them and be honest and courageous with your story. It matters hugely. Brian.

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  3. al bernstein

    Thank you so much for such an inspiring post.

    It is a great feeling when I find an organization and individual that speaks to
    the themes and discussion in my short film. I want to reach out and introduce myself
    with the hope to share the work you are doing with the work I am creating and help
    the unheard get their voices heard.

    One of the most important topics for young people and parents today within our communities is mental health in our youth and another important issue is how it’s dealt with by educators.

    We want to spark an intelligent conversation that goes beyond the horrors of the headlines
    with our compassionate dramatic short film.

    If you can take a moment to read about our short film you will have an opportunity to contribute and be part in creating an important film.
    http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/the-meeting

    Reply  |  
    1. Brian Allen

      Thanks Al, I – as the author of this blog post -don’t work for TWLOHA but, like you, I have a passion to see us address these difficult topics with honesty and courage with the aim of removing the taboo and offering help and hope. I’ll check out your links as soon as I can. Thank you for pouring your creativity into this area. Brian.

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  4. Patricia

    Thank you so much for sharing.

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    1. Brian Allen

      Thank you, Amber. I hope my words honour my friend Graeme and encourage us all to recognise each day for what it is – a gift – even in the mundane and ordinary and in the dark places and disappointments as well as the highllights and those best moments we want to fanfare on social media. May they offer an invitation to place settings or encourage people to offer those invitations to others so that we can share time and stories and food and drink and laughter and tears and life… To rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn and to carry one another’s’ burdens from time to time. Brian.

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  5. Amber

    Too many times it is that thought of being on the other end and having the empty chair facing you that keeps the demons trying to take you out because you are too selfless to do that to family, even though it might be easier for you.

    Reply  |  
    1. Brian Allen

      I know exactly what you mean. After I experienced the aftermath of losing a friend to suicide it really shifted something in my own mind and made me realise how those who loved me would have been affected had I given up the will to fight in my own darkest patch years before. Keep in there, feed your soul with the freindships, songs, books, films and past-times that make you feel most alive. People need other people – I believe that so strongly.

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  6. Kara Tirone

    I lost my first husband to suicide on my son’s third birthday. This article deeply resonates with me. Thank you.

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    1. Brian Allen

      I am so sorry for your loss Kara. I can’t imagine what that must have been like/is still like. In some ways my son is a constant reminder of my friend because of the date of events. For you, I suspect it is a daily reminder in looks, mannerisms and DNA. Your son needs his Mother. He needs someone to help him navigate, to know how precious he is, how very loved and cherished he is. Someone to cheer him on, to offer guidance and direction and opportunities. A Mom to help him discover his identity and the things he loves and is gifted in. May you find strength and a sense of determination to make every day count and to find beauty, adventure and purpose. Stay strong. Much love, Brian.

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    2. Bellla

      Love to you and your son, and prayers kara
      God bless

      Reply  |  
  7. Sheila Janca

    Thank you…I needed this.

    Reply  |  
    1. Brian Allen

      Thank you Sheila. May words fall daily like happiness and hope through your door. Brian.

      Reply  |  
  8. Jj

    How ironic that I came upon this. My Dad took his own life 3 years ago and when I think of him i have trouble rememember his face, my first thought is of that empty chair..

    Reply  |  
    1. Brian Allen

      So sorry to hear that JJ. There are times my memory gets blurred and the snap-shots of memories seem fuzzy or out of focus. I can’t remember the last words I spoke to my now departed friend…May fond memories wrap around you like a blanket and help fill the void. Brian.

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      1. Jj

        Thank you, may God bless you..

        Reply  |  
  9. Depressed

    This comment could not be shared due to the nature of the message.

    Reply  |  
    1. Claire Biggs

      Thank you so much for sharing part of your story with us.

      TWLOHA is not a 24-hour helpline, nor are we trained mental health professionals. TWLOHA hopes to serve as a bridge to help.

      If this is an emergency or if you need immediate help, please call and talk to someone at 1-800-273-TALK or reach out to the LifeLine Crisis Chat at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx“. We also have a list of local resources and support groups on our FIND HELP page. Please know that we also respond to every email we receive at info@twloha.com.

      Reply  |  
  10. Leslie

    Thank you. This will be one of the blogs stuck in my mind… Or I will go back to, anyway. Thank you for acknowledging the weight of that the empty chair AND that sometimes the food is like crumbs. So.true.

    Reply  |  
    1. Brian Allen

      Thank you Leslie. I hope the words bring you comfort when you need it, honesty and a recognition we are not alone. I also hope there are times when the chairs are full, the air struggling to contain the sound of voices and laughter and when a meal shared with people who love one another is something so much bigger than the sum of the parts. Brian.

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  11. P

    This piece was written beautifully and with truth and conviction. Thank you.x

    Reply  |  
    1. Brian Allen

      Thank you, P. It’s the first time I’ve ever submitted anything to TWLOHA. It felt right and the words came quickly and relatively effortlessly. I don’t mean that in any smug way. Maybe I’d been percolating my thoughts and memories for years until they were ready for a wider audience. I hope they have honoured my friend in the weeks and days leading up to the 6th anniversary of us losing him. I pray that they have helped others realise that many of us are affected by these issues. Moreover may we realise how lucky we are to be alive and may we find beauty in the seemingly small things of our everyday existence. Brian.

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  12. Rhiannon Parent

    One of my best friends committed suicide almost 9 months ago. I miss him every day..,, this really resonated for me, thank you for writing it.

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    1. Brian Allen

      SO sorry to hear that Rhiannon. I still think of my friend most days too. The smallest thing can serve as a reminder. I try to think of some of the fun times and remember them with fondness. It saddens me that he doesn’t see how life is playing out for some of his wider circle of friends now. The loss I still carry reminds me that others feel the way towards me that I feel towards my friend. The same will be true for you. The world is an emptier place without him and without your friend too. I try to use that to galvanise me to make the most of each day – to see them as chances to create snapshots and memories and stories for myself and others. There are plenty of times that I mess it up, get impatient, say things I wish I hadn’t etc….His absence can still make me feel sad or low, but when that happens I try to stop myself in my tracks – to recognise those feelings are true but to also remind myself of all the things I am thankful for. There is so much I take for granted and I quickly realise how lucky I am to simply be alive at this moment in history in this part of the world. Life may not all be peachy, but there is still much to be thankful for. That works well for me. I also love that these forums exist. That is why I will forever be a cheer section for TWLOHA – because it genuinely helps us realise that we are not alone. Look at us – here you and I are conversing about difficult things over the Internet probably in totally different parts of the world. Me, here in The UK and you where you are. Please know that you are loved. Please continue to take your place setting wherever you find yourself belonging or occupying or invited into. Brian.

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  13. Rhiannon Parent

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  15. Nick Taylor

    Great post Brian. I still think of him often and wish there was something I could have done. He was one of my heroes growing up.

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