It’s been four years since we saw Carter’s smile in person… We can still see it vividly in our minds and pictures. We are thankful each day for the memories we hold dear until we can hold dear Carter again and see that smile. As we remember Carter on this fourth anniversary, Carter’s mom, Susan, shares with us about Carter’s chair – Carter’s story.
Anyone who has ever lost a loved one likely knows how it feels to quietly stare at an empty chair and to envision that he or she is still sitting in it. Maybe it was their favorite spot on the sofa; maybe it was the recliner that made them feel most comfortable when they were ill; maybe it’s their chair at the dinner table; or maybe, just maybe, it’s the passenger seat of the car.
Almost daily, I see my beautiful son Carter sitting in all of those wonderful chairs. I daydream about him sitting in those spots and imagine what great conversations we would be having today. It’s almost certain that we would be discussing the college he’d be playing basketball for, or reminiscing about him getting into trouble at school when he made his classmates laugh while the teacher was trying to instruct. Maybe he would once again be telling me how he’s a better driver than his sister, Katie (sorry Katie, you know it would be true LOL); maybe we’d be talking about his fight with cancer, or our plans to go to the lake for the weekend. I miss him more than words can describe. I miss talking to him and hearing his voice; I miss his beautiful smile; I miss making scrambled eggs for him; I miss his absolute one of a kind sense of humor. I know I’m not the only one who misses him. He was loved by many and admired for his strength, even by those who had never even met him.
Two thousand nineteen would have been Carter’s senior year at MHS. His class is an amazing group of compassionate young adults. They demonstrated that time and time again as they included Carter in so many of their activities… from the class picture, the class t-shirts, basketball games, to graduation, and more. They miss him too and it was so heartfelt how they included him as if he was never gone. Commencement speaker and fellow classmate, Erica Jones, said “Carter will always be remembered as a funny kid who knew how to bring a smile to everyone’s face, and radiated positivity. His passing left a void in the hearts of those who knew him and even the members of our class who did not. All of us will always be Carter Strong through his impact on us.”
GRADUATION… that is the moment that made me really think about empty chairs. They had a chair for Carter at his MHS graduation and it was in alphabetical order—the way he would have received his diploma. As I sat during graduation, I could see my son sitting in that chair. He would’ve had that enormous grin on his face and twinkles in his brown eyes. I could see him crossing the stage to get his diploma and holding it up so proudly as he walked down the stairs to take his seat. I could see it all so vividly except it wasn’t Carter who stood on that stage that night. Instead, his family so courageously took the stage; it was his family that received a special plaque that has been at MHS for four years while his classmates went to school. It was his family who sat proudly and watched his fellow students speak, sing, and claim their diplomas on that stage. I know in my heart that Carter was watching it too.
Of all of the empty chairs I’ve thought about, it was that cold, metal, folding chair with his name on it at graduation that broadsided me. It literally took my breath away. Not because I was sad, but because THIS CHAIR… this cold, metal, folding chair was a sign. It was a beacon of light. It was a sign that my son Carter had been alive! It was a powerful indication that Carter made a huge impact in this world and on so many people in such a short time just like Erica Jones stated in her commencement address. He has never been forgotten and most importantly, he lives on through the lives that he impacted so strongly just like he impacted mine in ways I can never describe with words.
Happy 4th Angelversary to you, my son. My amazing son Carter. I know in my heart that we will meet again. Until then, please keep smilin’ and don’t be afraid to shake things up in heaven as I’m certain you already have. Heaven hasn’t been the same since you got there. I love you Carter… today and always, we remain CARTERSTRONG.
Beyond the Empty Chair
Look beyond the empty chair
To know a life well spent
Look beyond the solitude
To days of true content
Cherish in your broken heart
Each moment gladly shared
And feel the touch of memory
Beyond the empty chair.
by Catherine Turner