Tomorrow, December 19th 2015, would have been Rees’ fifth birthday. It will be the 4th birthday we will celebrate with a somber silence instead of laughter and joy. Instead of wrapping his presents, we are collecting toys to give to other families that are in need. In lieu of blowing out candles we will instead find ourselves blowing kisses to heaven – waiting for a small breeze to signify his kiss back to us. An empty chair will find itself occupied by fleeting glimpses in our mind’s eye of what could have been. Momentary visions of what could have been will usher anger and anguish into the center stage seating of the darkened theater of our minds.
I don’t wish to be a part of this play, yet I find myself on stage every December 19th. The script remains agonizingly unchanged even though it is in desperate need of editing. New characters may be added, and even more find themselves removed, but the star is always the same… the empty chair. My family and I find ourselves forced, like prisoners, to be a part of it, regardless of our wishes to be in another show. I want nothing more than to not be a part of this production, but it simply isn’t possible. No matter what I do, or where I go, the empty chair is always there.
I wish I could say that I am ok with sending out our “pay if forward” cards instead of writing out birthday cards, but that would be a lie. I wish I could say that seeing the movement in his name grow in schools was a good substitute for seeing him grow; it’s not. I wish I could say “I love you little man” and hear his voice respond “I love you too, Dad.” – but I never will. All the wishes in the world can’t do anything to change the reality that he is gone forever. Nothing can change that. No amount of books, animated television series, pay it forward cards etc. can ever bring him back.
Wishes are a tree that bears no fruit. All the wishing in the world does absolutely nothing, regardless of the problem. I can wish every moment of my life for Rees to come back, but it simply wont happen. I often tell the students I speak to that I hate hearing people say, “I wish it was a better world!”… Don’t wish for a better world, go out and make it one.
I should apply that same logic to the empty chair. Wishing he was sitting in it does nothing but cause me pain. Wishing he could blow out the candles on his birthday cake will always end up with the candles burning out on their own. Wishing he could say the words “I love you Daddy”, will always end with me being greeted by silence. I need to stop wishing for the things that I can never have, and keep focused on the things that I have in front of me.
While we celebrate Richie’s brief life tomorrow, instead of focusing on the empty chair, and wishing it filled, I need to look at the four chairs that have my love perched atop them. If I spend all of my time wishing for that empty chair to be filled I will lose site of the ones already occupied. Wishing for that empty chair to be filled takes my eye off of what I already have.
Tomorrow I vow to try something different. Tomorrow, instead of lamenting the empty chair, I will be thankful for all the filled seats at our table. I need to remind myself that I am not letting Rees go by allowing myself to focus on my family that is here – in fact I am surely honoring what he would want us to do, which is to keep on living life to its fullest.
My God, I miss my little boy more than any words I write can adequately describe. I know he can’t be with me physically, but I will continue to raise my fist to fate and do everything I can to honor his brief life. When I imagine the smiles on over 260,000 people who were on the receiving end of an act of kindness inspired by him, a piece of him comes to life and lights up that dark theater of my minds eye. If I focus on the positive I don’t need to wish for anything… I can see it right in front of me. Come to think of it, that empty chair actually isn’t really empty: It’s filled with the love and kindness of hundreds of thousands of people who know his name and continue to cultivate kindness because of him…