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We shall meet, but we shall miss him;

There will be one vacant chair;

We shall linger to caress him

When we breathe our evening prayer.
—"The Vacant Chair"
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Say you have a long-running member of a group, who always sat at a particular chair when the group was doing its thing. Now say that member dies, bravely in battle or otherwise. The group then honors his memory by making sure the chair he sat in for so long remains empty. Usually this is revealed to the Naive Newcomer or someone who doesn't yet know the history behind the chair and goes to sit down in it, unintentionally pressing the group's Berserk Button.

Compare This Is My Chair.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Empty Chair Memorial include:

Anime and Manga

  • Referenced by the chairs in Bokurano. Each one is associated with a particular character, and they one by one become empty.
  • In the first episode of FLCL Naota initially tells Haruko that she's not to sleep on the top bunk, as it belongs to his brother (who is in America playing baseball).
  • Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing: Dio flies his vanship by himself, leaving the back seat empty. That said, he's okay with having passengers as long as they don't use the controls.
  • There was a tradition at the bar frequented by the Urzu team on Meridia Base in Full Metal Panic that each member of the team had a reserved seat. Lt Groseaux managed to (intentionally) offend the entire team when he sat in the seat reserved for the recently deceased Urzu 1.

Comic Books

  • After the Fantastic Four retool, and the death of Johnny Storm, Spider-Man (who had replaced Johnny as per Johnny's prerecorded request) was forbidden by Franklin (Johnny's nephew) from taking a certain seat at the table. Said seat was, of course, reserved for Johnny.

Film

  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: Roger goes to sit in Eddie's brother's chair, only to be yelled at by Eddie. He still leaves his handprint on the chair.
  • X-Men: The Last Stand shows Professor Xavier's wheelchair, now empty.
  • Wing Commander: Lieutenant Blair mistakenly sits in Lt. Commander "Bossman" Chen's Rapier and then follows up by mistaking his new Wing Commander for a grease monkey. He does not make a good first impression.
  • The ending of My First Mister has one of these.

Literature

  • In The Lord of the Rings, the kingdom of Gondor has had no king for generations, and the steward has been ruling in the king's place. Even after the line of stewards have given up on the king ever returning, the king's throne remains empty and the steward sits on a smaller throne to the side.
  • Discworld has a similar tradition, where the throne of Ankh-Morpork remains vacant. Since this is Discworld we're talking about, only the truly deranged mourn the passing of the royal line, and the golden throne itself is mostly gold foil over rotten wood.
  • In A Christmas Carol and its many adaptations, the Ghost of Christmas Present foresees Tiny Tim's empty chair and his crutch tucked into a corner by next year's Christmas if things do not change from their current course of events. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come does him one better and shows Scrooge the empty chair, along with Tim's grieving family.

Live Action TV

  • Subverted on Babylon 5: After the death of Emporer Cartagia, Londo ends up temporarily at the head of government in the middle of a crisis. As he is issuing orders to the various members of the court, he takes a seat in the Emporer's throne, to the horror and protest of the others present. He quickly jumps out and apologizes. Then turns to Vir and quips about how it felt very natural to him. Also, unbeknowest to anyone else in the Court, Londo and Vir were behind Cartagia's death, somewhat adding to their lack of decorum and mourning.
    • Also played straight, with Minbari dining rituals. An extra table setting is laid out for Valen, a historical figure and religious leader for the Minbari. Before eating, each person at the table places a piece of food on Valen's plate.
  • Inverted in Star Trek Deep Space Nine "Who Mourns for Morn". Quark gets a passing customer to sit down in Morn's now empty chair to "keep it warm". Said passing customer is actually the actor who played Morn, out of makeup.
  • Castle, "The Dead Pool": Castle invites his protegee to come to the authors' poker game, and he tries to sit down in a particular chair. The group warns him off, saying "That's Cannell's chair." He then gets a lecture that the group keeps the chair of a dead player empty for a year.
    • Note that this aired after Stephen Cannell's actual death.
  • On After the Catch (a segment of Deadliest Catch), after Phil died, they left his chair empty, and hung a picture of him on a column behind it.
  • After Kate dies on NCIS, the other characters insist on giving her an 'empty desk' memorial. Ultimately, their new teammate is allowed to sit there, either signifying their acceptance of Kate's death and their new teammate, or that having Ziva sit off in at a lonely desk would be awkward for group shots. Either way.

Music

  • The Traveling Wilbury's music video for "End of the Line" cuts to an empty chair during Roy Orbison's verse, as Orbison died prior to shooting the video.
  • Similarly, the video for Avenged Sevenfold's "Nightmare" ends with a shot of The Rev's unoccupied drum kit.

Theatre

  • In Journey's End, Stanhope chews out Raleigh for sitting on Osbourne's bed after he dies in a raid on the enemy trenches.
  • This trope is invoked in Les Misérables with "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables", but inverted as Marius, the Sole Survivor, remembers the rest of his comrades who died in the uprising.
  • In the comedy sketch Dinner for One (later famously performed for West German television by British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden), the aging socialite Miss Sophie keeps four empty places at her birthday dinner in honour of her gentleman friends, but her butler James has to impersonate each of them and take their toasts after each course, causing him to become increasingly inebriated as the evening progresses.

Real Life

  • Many Christian churches have a chair for Jesus, which is otherwise unused.
  • A similar custom occurs in Judaism: the door is left open during the Passover Seder to invite in "the stranger" (partly a token of Sacred Hospitality, partly an expectation that the Prophet Elijah might show up at any moment). A cup is also left for Elijah, and a seat is sometimes left for him/the stranger as well.
    • There's a short story by Harry Turtledove in which "the stranger" does arrive in the shape of a Golem who rescues the Jewish family in question from the Nazi occupation of Poland.
  • Many formal dinners in the Canadian military (and others) have an empty chair in memory of fallen members of the military.
    • For the American military, the custom is to include a military cap with the table setting, especially for tables set for fallen members of the various branches, as if they had simply walked away and would be back any moment.
  • Missing man airplane formation.
  • Auto racing has a version where pole position on the starting grid is left empty in respect of a driver that recently died. At the 1994 Monaco Grand Prix both front row positions were left empty in memory of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, who both died during the previous race weekend.
    • Another variation is the standard practice of owners and drivers of historic race cars to leave the original driver's name tag (usually on the side of the cockpit) on the car when competing, even though that driver may be long gone.
  • A similar memorial to the Missing Man formation is the Riderless Horse in a funeral procession for military officers Colonel and above (including the President Of The United States).
  • Conservative commentator Barbara Olson was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77, en route to participate in a taping of the television show Politically Incorrect in Los Angeles, when the plane was flown into the Pentagon in the September 11 terrorist attacks. When the show resumed taping after a brief hiatus, host Bill Maher left an empty seat on the panel for a week in Olson's honor.
  • The "Field of Empty Chairs" at the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
  • To prove that this trope isn't necessarily a Death Trope, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony kept a chair empty for that year's winner, Liu Xiaobo, who was being held as a political prisoner in China at the time. The prize was placed on his empty chair.
  • After Washington Redskins saftey, Sean Taylor was shot dead in his own home, the Redskins started the following game by placing only ten men, instead of the usual eleven on the field at kickoff.
  • At many high school and college graduation ceremonies, if a member of the class died before graduating, a seat is sometimes left empty to mark where they would have sat.
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