Seat at the Table

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on

Last Thanksgiving, my childhood friend Anna, along with her family, opened up their doors to welcome us into their home. We enjoyed a dinner that married savory turkey for the carnivorous diners and tofu turkey for my vegetarian daughter. Complementary gastronomic delights helped create an unforgettable experience.

A somber underbelly lined the free-flowing conversation around the dinner table where, nine days prior, a seat was reserved for my son. What turned out to be our worst nightmare come to life, he never boarded the plane to return home.

One appreciated diversion, though, was my daughter’s friend Raj, originally from India, who savored his first American Thanksgiving dinner. My son, who had a profound interest in geography as well as different cultures, would have taken a keen interest in Raj’s background and, surely, liked his quick wit.

Recently, I viewed a painting “Seat at the Table” on display in a corporation. It pictures a part of a table and three prominent chairs. A part of another chair indicates a continuum. There is nothing significant about the artwork except its message. “Seat at the Table” symbolizes “breaking bread” among family, friends, associates and business colleagues. It is meant to portray inclusivity at the home and office where there is “always a seat at the table” for everyone regardless of a person’s “political affiliation, gender, beliefs, values, social class, age, disability, religion, sexuality, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, beauty, occupation, education, criminality, sport team affiliation or other personal characteristics.”

The message ends, “giving all an opportunity to have a seat at the table is vital for existence.”

Unfortunately, I think eventually we all have to face societal dinner tables where seats are limited and few; sometimes non-existent. I know, personally, as a first-generation American, more times than not, growing up, seats were not offered. Fortunately, in my mid-twenties that dilemma turned around completely, and I secured many seats at many tables.

In my son’s case, more times than not, seats never turned up for him at anyone’s dinner table (with the exception of his home where a seat waited 24/7, 365 days a year!). However, when you have mental illness, sometimes it’s difficult to gauge seat availability, never mind navigate to the appropriate room. Obviously, in the end he saw no seat anywhere in his hopeless eyes and faith took a sabbatical.

Paradoxically, this year, my daughter said to me on my son’s one-year death anniversary, “The universe takes care of us.”

Does the universe take care of us because we possess faith? Does the universe take care of us, because we are not imprisoned by mental illness and, thereby, capable of accepting its generosity? Who knows. What I do know is that from the moment Anna offered us seats at her Thanksgiving table, I and my daughter and other grievers took comfort at many other tables throughout this past heartbreaking year. Admittedly, the raw reality was that a few tables were seat-less. For instance, my children’s aunt whom we reached out to, but did not extend a hand to my daughter and me as we sank in the quicksand of vulnerability and sorrow. Sarcastically, I can say now, past the hurt, Auntie probably finds her seat in the pew every Sunday and plays the part of Good Samaritan!

I think a prerequisite for faith is trust. Over and over I’ve been burnt in different ways for trusting, but continue to risk. Throughout my adulthood, I always prided myself at setting a dinner table to include everyone. Compassion aside, I simply like people and find nearly everyone fascinating — with the exception of people like Auntie.

The return to regular blogging was also a big risk for me. I trusted enough to write my heart out to strangers. Thus far, I must say, I’ve found a safety net among my fellow bloggers.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to thank every single one of you. You’ve played a big part in this faith journey where more times than not my faith odometer is on zero. I have gotten to know many of you this past year reading intimate, informative, refreshing and enlightening posts, reading poems and marveling at photos and artwork.

In addition, your words of encouragement and connections have helped to string me along on this faith journey.

Just today, thinking no one read last week’s post, I received a heartfelt comment from Shira:

Thank you for sharing that faith that helped you to live, even if you didn’t mean to. Thank you for being here with us now.

Sending Safe Air Hugs, if you’d like them,

In turn, please realize, there is always an empty seat at my table. After all, Thanksgiving, as I used to say to my children, should be celebrated every day, not only one day a year.

Now, with the holiday upon us, I wish you a Thanksgiving overflowing with peace, love, laughter and faith that if a seat at one’s dinner table isn’t available, another one will open up somewhere else.

Faith Muscle

Mountain Top Memories

One of my fellows endured a childhood of physical and emotional abuse from his mother. The abuse included a near-fatal stabbing. When he was in his thirties, his mother died from natural causes. After a great deal of therapy, more than twenty years later, the day arrived when he vividly felt her presence. At that moment, he said, “I did not mean to, but I forgave her.”

Perhaps, one day, I will be at that point. I am not close to forgiving myself, my son as well as a few others. However, what my fellow’s Epiphany triggered for me, reflecting over the worse year of my entire life is: I did not mean to live, but I did.

President-elect Joe Biden poignantly captures the state of grief I refer to. After tragically losing his young wife and daughter in a car accident in 1973, he said, “For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide. Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again.”

My tragedy happened on November 19, 2019. Later, in March 2020, shortly before the pandemic, standing at the counter of Panera Bread waiting for an order, I suddenly realized that before the tragedy, I stood at that same counter countless times during nondescript, non-significant moments simply picking up food. In those days, I was deliriously happy. Rose-colored glasses were custom-made for my eyes. These days I now know I had been to the mountain. My heart whispers a bitter truth: “You will never get there again.”

I felt tremendously guilty erasing what remained of him, but baby photos and other reminders, not to mention a recent photo displayed inside the front door’s entrance days after the funeral, only deepened the unbearable pain. As it turned out, my dear artist friend Harold Davis gave me an abstract painting, and I switched the photo of my son in the entrance with the artwork.

Unlike my son’s face that brings me deep sorrow, Harold’s work creates energy and spark. No coincidence that it is titled “Fourth of July.” The holiday happens to be one of my son’s favorite holidays. It also happens to be his best friend’s favorite holiday. We lost his best friend in 2011 at 18 years old in an off-road vehicle accident.

After I removed the hallway photo, I packed away his baby pictures and other reminders, including a grammar school photo that greeted me every morning. Many “experts” believe that reliving the memories of a deceased loved one helps alleviate the pain. I, however, cannot bear to remember the elusive mountain top, at least for right now.

Autumn Leaves — Eva Marie Cassidy

On the 19th of this month, I have reserved a hotel room near my daughter who lives about an hour and a half away. We plan to spend a few days together and brave the upcoming first anniversary of the avalanche, and how we were forced to face the trauma and redefine ourselves to the amorphous aftermath.

Looking back, the underlying question remains: How did I live, especially when I didn’t mean to? A large part of the answer I realize is that I live on borrowed oxygen. When my faith meter runs near empty, others fuel me. For instance, at the end of March 2020, nearly a dozen individuals from different regions of the U.S. joined me and my roomie in a virtual “Out of the Darkness Campus Walk.” My daughter’s best friend had spearheaded the fundraiser for the University of Southern Mississippi. In my son’s name, we raised $1,000, which was $250 over our goal.

At the beginning of the year, my employer initiated and remained instrumentally involved in creating my son’s commemorative plaque. My daughter and I presented the keepsake at his workplace in Kentucky. The artwork includes a photo of my son as well as “Living Waters,” one of his nature collection photographs. In addition, my employer also arranged for me to write a feature article for a Native American edition of a specialty publication. “Indian Well State Park: Where beauty and legend coexist” is the end result and features his photography of one of his favorite nature jaunts. Ironically, though I did not accompany him on this day trip to the park in the fall of 2017 when he shot these photos, I came full circle on a dreary day in early spring and followed his invisible footsteps on the route to the best of my ability.

Over this past year, looking back on so many experiences like these, there is no doubt I am miraculously alive on top tier faith fuel. At every turn, a reserve aplenty, with or without the asking. Pure faith is like pure oxygen, you have no clue how it works, but do you need to see to believe or do you just need to focus on your footing?

Faith Muscle

Summer Days of Fall

Years ago before our family disintegrated, every time we experienced warm, sunny autumn days, my ex-husband would exclaim, “We won’t have many days like this left.”

Photo by YAO KAILUN on

Our family comprehended the sense of urgency in his statement and tried to capture the favorable weather by partaking in as much outdoor activity as we could squeeze into the burning daylight hours. How easily I can still picture my son and daughter’s grins from ear to ear, with my daughter’s long strawberry blonde hair flying like dandelion stalks as the two siblings rode their bicycles aimlessly on every empty stretch of the neighborhood.

I hadn’t remembered my ex-husband’s long-ago statement until this season, this year. Now, suddenly, with a record number of unseasonably warm days, his voice fills my mind and has become a permanent deposit in my memory bank.

Though loud and unsubtle, the ping of its urgency is now gone. I shake my head in unbelief, never before to have recognized the ominous connotations of his statement. In fact, I would have never in a billion years taken his remark literally. However, now I realize that he was saying something that implied a much deeper, in essence darker meaning–a direct warning, if you will.

This fall marks 10 years of his emotional and mental breakdown and, subsequently, his total abandonment of our family. Additionally, this November marks 12 months that I am saddened with a womb of grief to know my son will not experience the flirty breezes and warm dancing sunlight of the season. My son, who, among other things, suffered from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), has missed these mild days, the type that rarely failed to enhance his sulky moods. Soon these pleasant days will by erased by the forceful hand of winter.

Photo by Raphael Brasileiro on

“We won’t have many days like this left.”

Seasons aside, in the scheme of life, I realize something else. Regardless of the weather, the truth in my ex-husband’s statement can be applied to every passing day. Each day, if I work hard at it, I can draw on my faith and use my stream of consciousness to aim a bittersweet dart at the rationed hours stored in my private reserve.

Most importantly, I can hold off on the urgent things and go outdoors to experience a momentary pause and allow the golden ball of warmth to sponge up the dripping wounds and bathe me clean.

Faith Muscle

Fall into Fall and Die

Photo by Erickson Balderama on

For most of my life, I ascribed to the belief of the big white, bearded man in heaven by the name of “Jesus.” I believed in purgatory and hell. I believed in resurrection and life ever after. I believed that good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. I believed in order and organization.

How wrong I was. The death of my 26-year-old son has humbled me. If I didn’t know my own son, how would I know about God or things unseen? I’m at this point now in my life where I don’t fill in the lines. I don’t have the answers, and I’m proud of it.

Of course, let me delete what I’ve just said because then there are days of righteousness like today. I woke up this morning only to be notified by FB that my son’s former friend was celebrating another birthday. Perhaps, I’m reading it wrong, but this young man isn’t the most selfless young man around. Years ago, he abandoned my son after my son helped him relocate to another state across the country. My son had high hopes of moving to that state also, but, in the end, my son’s travel companion threw him out of his vehicle along with his luggage. My son later informed me that a Good Samaritan helped him pick up and reorganize his belongings that were flying all over the place. I remember picking up my son a week later at the airport. I remember how I kept the “I told you so” lecture to myself. Most of all, I remember the relief of seeing the sight of my stocky, healthy son standing in front of me alive and well. I forget what month it was, but it wasn’t in November. I disdain November as much as I disdain October, because October leads into November.

So November kicked off with this young man that apparently took advantage of my son celebrating another year alive. Yippee! He has a great job. A wife and child. I don’t know if he has another child on the way, because a mere glance at his Facebook page is a recipe for code red pain. Needless to say, this young man never even reached out to me when my son passed away. Of course, most of the other young adults that grew up with my son didn’t reach out to me either. I know. I know. I have no control of these things. Who knows why good things happen to not-so-good people sometimes, but today is one of those days in which I simply want a just, punishing God to bludgeon evildoers!

Ironically, last year when tragedy struck in November, I couldn’t wait for the year to pass. I surmised that my womb of grief would feel a reprise from the agony. But grief is different from pain. Grief does not heal in the sense of disappearing. It finds its own space and you learn to live with it like a low-grade headache.

Autumn Leaves — Eva Marie Cassidy

Now in reality, each day closer to the actual day of my son’s death anniversary feels like my low-grade headache is about to explode into a migraine. As everyone around me prepares for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I try and maneuver through a landmine. I am grateful to the pandemic, because I don’t have to deal with too many insensitive earthlings. I limit Facebook (except for days like today when it intrudes on my woman cave). In addition, I have stored all of my son’s photos and memorabilia away, because there is no solace in “happy memories,” only regrets and sorrow and an end of a chapter in its raw beginning and not in its end with a proper conclusion.

Nonetheless, when I have to deal with earthlings, including my boss and the few around me, I try and proceed, acting as if I have faith that I won’t wither and just die like the autumn leaves. However, I think the ones who really know me realize my sweet, almost child-like optimism is gone. In essence, I wish I could fake a cake of a smile and make deliciously yummy talk, but I won’t hurt myself in that manner. As my therapist said early on. “This sucks!”

In all certainly, I hope no one ever has to live through losing a child. Of course, this notion is not realistic. With this idea in mind, getting back to my son’s former friend, I guess, I’m glad his mom doesn’t have to feel the unbearable pain that feels like losing a right arm without the numbing effect of anesthesia. As much as it hurts for me, I’m glad the young man, whom I can’t help but dislike, is celebrating his birthday. What it means is that maybe one day he can, maybe, do one small act of kindness for someone else and get a stab of feeling compassion and empathy. Selfishness may feel satisfying, but it takes a lot of fuel to run a tank that’s always hitting empty. On the other hand, selflessness is an act of faith that fills the spirit with renewable energy that feeds you at supremely satisfied levels.

Faith Muscle