The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair

On the eleventh of November 2013 Horace, Rachel, Leah and I went to IKEA in Belfast to buy some bits and pieces for our new house. Leah wasn’t allowed in public places because of her immunity, but IKEA that Monday morning was almost deserted, so we felt that it was safe for her to come with us. Leah loved shopping.

Ikea trip

It was a challenge to fit both the people and all the purchases into our car afterwards, but my husband is amazing when it comes to packing the car. It comes from years of practice being married to a woman who doesn’t ‘travel light’!

packed car after Ikea

Amongst the items we bought were six folding kitchen chairs. Why did we need six? Because, in 2013, we were a family of six – two parents and four children.

Now, unless we have visitors, one of those kitchen chairs remains folded, unused, in our Utility Room.Folded chair Now that it’s December, we are once again in the season when for many families there is a heightened awareness of the empty chair.

Along with our awareness of an empty chair, we will have Leah’s eighteenth birthday on New Year’s Eve and the second anniversary of her final hospitalisation and her death in December/January.

This morning I read a blog post by John Pavlovitz and he says it better than I could in his recent blog post entitled Holidays and Empty Chairs: 

“The holidays are a time for recognizing our profound fullness, of purposefully dwelling on the abundant overflow we find ourselves in and being grateful.

Our houses and our bellies bulge to capacity and we gleefully overindulge in food and friends and laughter. We fill ourselves to bursting with all the things and the people that make life glorious and make the pain bearable.

This is a season where we inventory our lives and readily acknowledge all that is good and sweet and right.

It is about celebrating presence.

But not for you. Not right now.”

Click HERE to go to his blog and read the rest of this post.


All together at last

All together at last

When Leah was diagnosed we were told that post transplant she couldn’t be discharged back to our existing house as we had a severe problem with mould and damp in the bedrooms.

Hundreds of pounds & a government grant had been spent trying to eliminate this problem but it kept coming back.

Fortunately we had a half finished house in the garden with an indefinite completion date.

The furniture from Leah’s existing bedroom was crumbling due to the damp, so our friends and neighbours organised a fundraising drive to raise money to equip Leah’s bedroom in the new house with everything she could possibly need.

There was an awful lot of work needing done to the new house before anyone could live in it.

While Leah and I were in Bristol, my husband Horace along with many relatives and friends worked long hours to get the new house into shape.

Meantime Leah sat on her bed in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit and ordered all her new bedroom furniture & bedding from Dunelm Mill online – she was so excited.

When we had got back to Belfast, Rachel, our eldest, toured Leah around Ikea in a wheelchair on a quiet Monday morning to get the finishing touches.


Leah needed a desk at which to study for her GCSEs and a comfortable desk chair.

When the time for our homecoming was near friends and family were busy cleaning, making beds (literally) and hanging curtains.

Finally on Monday 11th November ’13, Leah and I moved into our new house.

Leah absolutely loved her new room with its own ensuite facilities.

Everything was designed to protect Leah’s frail immune system and to help her convalesce


At this stage a lot of the house was as yet unfinished so only Leah & I could live there initially – the rest of the family lived nearby in the old house.

Our goal was to be together for Christmas.

There were days when Horace & I wondered how that goal was ever going to be achieved.

Again we relied on the generous help of family and friends.

Finally on Christmas Eve, the other bedrooms were ready and we moved the furniture in.

That night, for the first time since the 26th June ’13 the six of us were sleeping under the one roof.

My back was sore from lifting & carrying but I felt such an immense sense of relief that we were all together at last.