Another Empty Seat

On Thursday, 13 July 2017, a friend of hundreds of people (especially in the figure skating world), Mr. Terry Watson, quietly stepped across the threshold of death from time into eternity.  Only a couple of weeks earlier had he, his family, and friends learned of the diagnosis—advanced, stage-four pancreatic cancer.  I wrote a brief blog only minutes after learning of Terry’s death.

Unbeknownst to anyone else, and not knowing what my role might be with this precious family, I worked (and cried) for several hours, preparing thoughts in a Word document, just in case I was asked to do Terry’s funeral.  Per his wishes, Terry had a “living funeral” at Detroit Skating Club only days earlier, providing an opportunity for those who could make it there to say their goodbyes while he could still hear them!

Now, I want to share some of those thoughts, to bring focus, encouragement, & consolation to all who read them.  It is my prayer that these words may become a focal point of comfort & blessing to those bereaved by Terry’s passing.

One of life’s greatest blessings is the privilege of building relationships with other people.  (That makes times like this simultaneously difficult & comforting.  Whilst we’re born into some relationships, we must build them in order to maximize them.  Other relationships are built from scratch into great marriages or friendships.  Such was the case with two friends in the Old Testament—David & Jonathan.

(1 Sam 20:18 KJV) Then Jonathan said to David, Tomorrow is the new moon: & thou shalt be missed because thy seat will be empty.

Those two phrases speak an inescapable reality that must be confronted.  The Watson family demonstrated a remarkable togetherness for decades, especially in recent weeks with Terry’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  Further, the out-pouring of concern & love expressed to them by the Detroit Skating Club was remarkable as well.

Consider those two short phrases for a moment.

The seat of a son is now empty, and he will be missed.  Please understand that, when I make that observation, this is something I have experienced.  To lose a child—regardless of their age—is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences a parent can have.

Further, the seat of a spouse is now empty.  Earlier, during a phone conversation between Di and me, she quietly stated, “I miss him already.  I expect to hear his voice any moment.”   What a beautiful testimony this couple has given us by the love they have shown each other in the presence of all who ever knew them.

And Di, what a wonderful legacy you and Terry have given to your daughter Bethany.  When you sense that loneliness creep over you, and feel the emptiness of that chair at the table, remind yourself that, although you loved Terry dearly, God loved him even more.

The seat of a father is now empty, and I know he will be missed—again, something I understand personally.  This is a tough one too, because, although the world has millions of fathers, this one was yours, Bethany, but let me encourage you with something that I have seen in your family.

And, Bethany let me be honest with you—I don’t know exactly how you feel, but from someone whose father died several years ago, let me say this—None of us understands why death reaches its icy fingers into our lives the way it does, but accepting God at His word, we can find comfort, peace, & perspective.

In coming days as you notice that empty seat, & miss your wonderful dad, never forget how much your father loved you.  Terry left you with many noble character qualities as an example that you can follow; so identify them, commit yourself to them, & walk in them.

Death always touches more lives than the immediate family.  The seat of a friend is also empty—and Terry had many friends.  Now, by the hundreds, we’ll be see an empty seat in our circle of friendship, & we will miss him.

Most of us are old enough & experienced enough in the rigors of life to know that friends are made & not met—that if one makes a dozen loyal friends in the run of a lifetime, we’ve done well.  Watson family, you must know that your husband & father was that kind of friend to many people—& especially so to the many skaters whose lives he touched.

Finally, I notice that the seat of a saint is now empty here on earth, but one has been filled in heaven—and that’s the end game, not earth.

Late Friday night, after hundreds of Terry’s friends had spent time honoring him, Debbie, Diane, Terry & I slipped into the Ice Sports Café for a few private moments.  In Di’s words, “We just want to make sure that we’re going to see each other again in heaven.”

As Terry sat on a stool, with the three of us standing around him, I covered some critical bases with Terry before asking him a summary question—one that I’ll ask you momentarily.  While Terry Watson was one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet in your lifetime, you need to understand something else—despite all the good that he did, he was a sinner!

I could not tell you what one of his sins were—he never confessed to me, & I was always too busy confessing my own—but I know that he was a sinner (that’s the bad news).

(Rom 3:23) For all have sinned & come short …

(Rom 3:10) There is none good, no, not one. 

However, the good news is that Terry confirmed that he had addressed the sin problem & called on the only person who can help anyone with a sin problem—Jesus Christ.

(Rom 10:13) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Do you realize that the only hope we have of ever seeing Terry Watson again is in heaven—& the only way to get there is by following Terry’s footsteps to the cross of Calvary, & asking Terry’s Savior to become yours.

(Isa 55:6) Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.

It’s at times like these that pastors are called upon to offer words of comfort.  However, I must be honest with you—the comfort needed in times like these is not found me, but rather in the person of Jesus Christ—the God of all comfort.

(John 14:1-3 KJV) (Jesus said) Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, & receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

This leads me to ask—Have you trusted Jesus Christ personally as your Savior?  You see, the relationships we have here in time determine to some extent our level of happiness here on earth.  However, it’s the relationship that we establish here on earth with Jesus Christ that determines our happiness for all eternity in heaven.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, why not take this moment to affirm or reaffirm your relationship with Christ?

Dale on Coronado (CA)

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