The (empty) seat at the table

This and every holiday many of us gather missing some of our loved ones. Not everyone can attend our gatherings and we miss them.

Then there are those (some we love the most) who have died and will never again gather with us in our earthly spaces.

“How do I get through these days?” is a common question I hear and a common thought I have had.

When we lose someone whom we deeply love and have greatly enjoyed spending time with, the celebratory moments can become a mix of emotions, thoughts and feelings.

The sadness may exacerbate and feel overwhelming. The moments of quiet may change from relief and re-energizing to hours and nights of deeper loneliness and overwhelming sadness. For many people grieving, holidays can become some of the most difficult of days…and nights.

Pretending these emotions are not present does not help. I suggest that we move into those moments. Now I am not suggesting we move into a place of sadness and despair for the holidays and settle into being in that place. What I do suggest is that we recognize, name, embrace and move into our continued healing.

Those we gather with may, too, be hurting and mourning the loss of beloved family and friends missing. The need for support can be great and so I offer some suggestions that may be of help.

A photo of us at one of our last family weddings together.

Having experienced the past three years of Christmas without my beloved has been very difficult. It will again this year have moments of deep pain. But I have also identified some practices and actions that I have found to give support and comfort to my healing. I hope you may, too, find these to be of help.

 Recognize the loss
Those in my life and our sons’ lives are very aware that my husband, their father, has died. To hear Dave’s name spoken gives us great hope, hope that he is not forgotten and hope of a life well lived that did indeed impact others as well. Dave remains on our mind. Saying his name honors him and us, that is healing and supportive.

Include your beloved in your holiday gatherings
We have three candles that we have placed at the empty space on our table when we gather. The empty chair recognizes the reality that we have people missing from our table. Dave, my father Gerry and father-in-law Robley remain with us in spirit and love. We light the candles and say their names. We include them in our prayers. We honor their lives and our loss. Invite others who gather with you to light a candle and name their beloved as well. They will be grateful.

Sharing of Stories
Encourage stories of beloved family and friends to be told. Telling the stories can be great ways to remind ourselves of the great moments and events in our lives. Our stories within the greatest story of our faith can give meaning and hope to our days. Passing on funny stories, favorite memories and ways our beloved impacted our gatherings can be great steps to honor and heal.

 Have a backup plan
If you just cannot bring yourself to join in gathering, festivities or celebrations, it is okay too. Sometimes the pressure I placed on myself in my early days after Dave’s death was heavy and unbearable in its own place. To shorten times at gathering or give your self permission to skip and event is okay.

Be gentle, kind and understanding with yourself
Protect yourself and be comfortable doing the best you can given the circumstances. Allow others to help, most of us love helping others. Extend that gift to others with grace for them to support you.

Allow time to honor your grief
Recognize the grief and your need for time and space. Embracing the pain of loss can allow us to reconcile the pain and heal. Remember, as my friend and author Alan Wolfelt writes, “to live well we must mourn well”. Allowing yourself to recognize the pain opens you to healing.

For me these days are among the most challenging. I will continue to grieve and mourn all the days of my life. That is the consolation of love and loss. And I pray, I continue to pray for myself, our sons, our families and friends and yes, I will this year be especially be praying for you!   Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.


Geralyn Nathe-Evans has been called to the vocations of wife, mom, Lay Ecclesial Minister, nurse and friend. Read more about Geralyn on our Meet Our Bloggers page.

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