Empty Chairs

James Prashant Fonseka
3 min readMar 22, 2020


My grandfather had a particular chair he would always sit in in the family room. He died over ten years ago, but that chair is still there. It’s empty now, but it’s still his.

In my grandparents’ house, the family room was the TV room. My grandfather retired before I can remember — I think shortly after I was born, or maybe before, but nonetheless spent what seemed like hours daily watching stock tickers. Or maybe it was just on the hour. Either way, it kept him busy. For a man who was retired, my grandfather was always busy. If you called him, he always said he was busy. The man had presence. And, nobody sat in his chair.

Grandfather had the best seat in the house. In the family room, the TV was placed to the left of the main sitting area — the hallway entrance to the family room immediate opposite. The larger couch is quite far to the right of the TV, so one has to crane a bit to see what’s on the screen. Grandfather’s chair was just beside the hallway, almost directly in front of the TV. And, he had a little table with a phone right next to him so he could seamlessly switch between CNBC, PBS, and long distance phone calls. The man had it all figured out.

The empty chair itself is nothing special. It is one of the former set of breakfast room chairs. I am old enough to remember the full set of chairs, and matching table, that it came from. I’m sure they were nice once, perhaps in the 1970s, but the chairs had always looked bruised and brutish to me and that old table literally kept falling down on its damaged legs. While many of the chairs had bent metal legs and ripped vinyl seats, the sole survivor is straight and at the seat is at least as intact as my grandfather’s favorite sweater (some tips and tears, but functional). I will confess that I always wondered why he picked that particular chair. Now I know.

Unattractive as it may be, the ergonomics of that chair are supreme. Yes, I now sit in it, on occasion. Like my places in this house, the chair felt a bit sacred. After my grandfather died nobody sat in that chair for some time. But I recently saw my brother sitting in it, and figured I would too. With my grandmother gone too, it seems it’s fair time to pass the chair. And a wonderful chair it is.

I can sit in it for hours; its stiff back is great for my back. People often talk about filling one’s shoes, but I think really we should talk about sitting in one’s chair. I remember sitting in President George W. Bush’s chair in the oval office. That was novel but sitting in my grandfather’s chair is sublime.

It’s also amazing how much of one’s identity can be in a chair. I have a newfound appreciation of thrones, and why Egyptian pharaohs would be buried with their chairs. The chair represents the comfort of home. When one has a home, one has their favorite place in the home, and by some point that places becomes their presence. Even with that chair empty, it still feels like my grandfather is there. It will always be my grandfather’s chair.

Or should I call it… the throne