We have a long pine table in our kitchen, and around that table there are ten matching chairs. On a normal evening, eight of those chairs are occupied. The other two chairs belong to Felicity and Thomas. Of course Felicity only sits on her chair when she comes home on holiday and Thomas has never sat in his chair because he never actually came home. He has never needed a chair.
Several years ago, Felicity and her then boyfriend (now husband) Graham came home for Christmas. We’d never met Graham before. He seemed very nice. We were sure we’d love him. But we wondered what he’d think of us. Would he like us? Or would he think we are weird?
At that first holiday dinner, we all headed for the table. Felicity sat on her chair and Graham hovered not sure where to go. I pointed to the only spare chair and invited him to sit down. Then Sophie piped up, “You’re sitting on Thomas’ chair!” Graham looked a bit unsure. Sophie continued with emphasis, “You’re sitting on the chair of a saint!” Now Graham looked very uncomfortable indeed. He was confused. Had he done something wrong? Should he jump up and vacate the seat?
I hurriedly reassured Graham, “Sophie’s just letting you know how honoured you are. You’re sitting in the most special chair around the table. It’s a privilege!” I don’t know if Graham wanted this privilege. He might have preferred an ordinary chair. He smiled awkwardly and I had to reassure him again, “You’ll get used to us!”
For a whole week Graham had to endure our strange family. We teased, we joked, we stirred him up. In other words, we treated Graham just like he was part of the family. Maybe he might have preferred to have been treated as a guest.
Three weeks ago, Graham returned from his home on the other side of Australia, together with Felicity, so they could be married in our parish church. We hadn’t scared him off that Christmas with all our teasing. He hadn't vowed never to come back. No, he not only returned but asked if he could become one of us, a new member of our family.
So now Thomas has a brother-in-law and Graham has three new brothers-in-law. Does Graham still think we are strange? Is he going to become strange himself? And does he still wonder why Thomas has a chair of his own which he can never use?
Graham probably understands why we named one of our spare chairs 'Felicity’s chair'. She does come home occasionally to sit on it. But why did I give a chair to a son who has died, a son who will never ever sit on it. I think about it and I have come to this conclusion: I want everyone to know that Thomas is a real part of our family. I want to keep him alive for his siblings. I want everyone to know that he would have sat around our family table if circumstances had been different. I want a visual reminder that we still have 8 children even though that isn’t always obvious.
So Graham is now part of the family. He and Felicity have already made plans to come home again next year for a holiday. Will we have to rename Thomas’ chair? Will we have to call it Graham’s? No, there is still plenty of room around the table. I think we ought to get Graham a chair of his own.
Welcome to the family, Graham!