Starting today and going through the week is the National Empty Chair Campaign. Parents across the nation are placing beautifully decorated empty chairs outside of their homes to raise awareness in their communities. I’ve known about it for a while and for various reasons didn’t get around to doing one.
I always consider what Hagen would think about what I’m doing to fight this battle that so many of us are fighting, and I honestly think he is ok with the fact that there isn’t an empty chair on my porch.
That doesn’t mean I’ve skipped a beat in being a voice or raising awareness and it certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t feel an emptiness with him gone. We absolutely do, but there’s one thing about Hagen’s family that he was so very proud of - we are fighters - and fighting the ugliness of grief is something we do daily. The emptiness IS there and always will be, but each day, with each new memory we make, and each time we remember what an idiot he was and laugh, we take away from the emptiness.
When you have someone in your life who’s light burned as bright as his did, who loved as big as he did, who fought injustice as hard as he did, you offset the emptiness by letting the best part of him live on through you. And so we do. And so I do.
22 years is a blink really, but man, did that kid leave a mark.
I will support any and all efforts to bring awareness and stop the stigmas that those that struggle with mental health and substance use disorders face, so here are my “chairs”. One was taken at the airport the night he flew from basic training to his station in Groton, CT. He got up to talk with someone and left his backpack and cover next to me. I’m so glad I took this picture. The other was taken by my sister the day we buried Hagen on our family farm. It was a day of celebrating who he was and honoring him by doing what we would do if he was there. My sister took the photo of the football and water bottle on the swing. I have no idea who left it there, but at any other family event it would have been Hagen. Neither of us knew when we took these photos what they would come to symbolize, but I am so glad we did! I couldn’t decide which empty chair to use, so I choose both.
Both are a reflection of what Hagen loved most. His family - his Navy brothers, and us.