December 4, 2013

The Empty Chair

Schricker,-Mary-Dec2010By Mary Schricker Gemberling

The following is an excerpt from my book, A Labor of Love; My Personal Journey through the World of Caregiving. Many of you may be taking the final steps with a loved one or experiencing your first holiday season without them. It is my hope that by sharing this personal story, you will not feel so alone. May you be blessed with a feeling of peacefulness and a heart full of memories this holiday season.

“Holidays are typically a time of joy and happiness. But while everyone else is immersed in the hustle and bustle of the season, there are many caregivers who are struggling with the holiday spirit while watching their loved ones succumb to illness or even death. I remember the first holiday season after my mom’s stroke. Her weakened condition made it difficult for her to participate in all of the activities that were so much a part of our family’s traditions. She had always made the pumpkin pies and baked her special nut bread. She had never missed a year of sending Christmas cards, some to people she had known for over sixty years. She prided herself on carefully selecting presents for each family member as well as her friends.
My mom was a giver and it was important to her to keep giving. My mom’s persistence would not allow her to admit she could no longer perform these once simple tasks. It is difficult for someone who is no longer able to physically and mentally do the things he or she has spent a lifetime doing. The anger and emotions that played out during these months added increased stress to all of us involved in my mother’s caregiving. We felt sad for her, sad for the loss of traditions, and a bit less enthused about our own holiday festivities. But knowing it could be her last, we wanted to make it as good as we could. We helped her write and send cards, took her shopping, and wrapped the presents, but it just wasn’t the same for her; she missed doing it herself. There was such a range of emotions to deal with along with all the other anticipated stressed during this trying time. Visits to my mom were difficult the weeks before and during this first holiday season. She missed her condo and would beg anyone who would listen to find a way to help her return home. We tried to decorate her room and make it feel festive, but nothing we did could ever come close to matching the memories of holidays past in her own home. Understandably, she just simply lost the joy of the season.

My mom lived another eighteen months through anniversaries, birthdays, and additional holidays. We met the challenges of each day as best we could, again knowing in our hearts that it could be her last. I am glad we had all those extra celebrations with my mom even if she was not fully able to enjoy them. The passing of time allows the “not so good” times to fade and helps us clearly remember the “good” ones. Today when I think of the holidays, I picture my mom in the kitchen of my childhood home, hot pad in hand, carefully removing that pumpkin pie from the oven. If I concentrate hard enough, I can almost smell the freshly baked nut bread. I see colorful packages piled under a towering, slightly crooked tree, in front of the bay window of our living room. Those are the memories that I want to keep.”

Mary Schricker Gemberling, former educator and Seniors Real Estate Specialist, is the author of two books, The West End Kid and Labor of Love; My Personal Journey Through the World of Caregiving (available at )

Filed Under: Family, Personal Growth

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