The Empty Chair

To some, today is the day after 9-11. To some, it was the rebuilding of America, after such a tragedy. It was a day of recognizing heroes in our midst, displaying our American pride by placing flags on our doorsteps, front lawns, and storefronts. Some celebrated life.

To me, it was the beginning of a breaking heart.

Seven years ago, today, I got the call that my grandfather, John Patrick Fitzgerald, had passed away. I had visited him just a few hours before. I heard my mom speak those words, I heard her crying, but I couldn’t believe he was gone. The man I’d admired, respected and loved for 43 years – was gone. I remember driving blindly to my parent’s house, sobbing and trying to catch my breath. The song, “Fix You” was playing on the radio … “when the tears come streaming down your face…when you lose something you can’t replace…could it be worse?”  Thoughts flooded my brain. So many memories. All at once.

It was a pain I’ve never known.

I remember crying for days. I remember helping my Mom and my Nana plan the service. My brother would represent the family and speak his Eulogy. “Danny Boy” was playing during the prayer service, and the sorrow I felt was mirrored throughout the room.

I remember the American Flag being handed to my grandmother, and the look on her face, that of emptiness. Together for 70 years, her love for him was as strong this day, as it had ever been. And I knew she was already lost without him.

As we drove back home, the sun was shining. Cars passed by and I could hear their radios playing, I saw people jogging along the sidewalk…and I wanted to be like them. Completely unaware of the tragedy that had just touched our family.

I wake up with tears in my eyes, after dreaming that we’re sitting at their kitchen table, and he’s winking and patting me on the head. The chair, his chair, vacant now, but memories of him sitting and telling stories, smiling, and laughing…all still very much a part of me.

Though he’s gone, I do hear him. I do see him. He’s in my children’s faces. He’s with John when he’s catching a fish, and laughing with Lila. He’s in Patrick’s expressions and in his big brown eyes. My Papa was strong and tough, but boy did he love his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. And most of all, his bride of 70 years, Dolly Maglio Fitzgerald. A love like no other.

This year marks the 7th anniversary of his passing. The unbelievable pain that I felt that day is now filled with the memories that’s he blessed me with for 43 years. I no longer look at his picture and cry. I look at his picture with pride, admiration, respect and love.

So while today may be the day after 9-11, a day to rebuild, a day to honor the heroes in our midst, to me September 12th will always be the day I remember and honor my hero.

You are missed. You are loved. Today and always.


My Nana & Papa, John & Dolly Fitzgerald

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