Empty Chair Holidays

photo of an empty chair symbolizing the loss of a loved one during a holiday

Many lament the approach of empty chair holidays. Sometimes this can occur due to a loved one with a chronic illness.

Even before we lost our son, hosting for the holidays was becoming a less frequent occurrence, mainly because of the chance of emergency hospitalizations. There was one Thanksgiving, however, our son requested that we host a large gathering at our home. He wanted their daughter to be able to play with her little cousins! Of course, I jumped at the chance! Despite wintry weather conditions we had roughly two dozen relatives in various parts of our home. We got along fine, with everyone enjoying a typical Thanksgiving feast. At one point following the meal, I meandered through the house, noting many animated conversations with relatives in various rooms. I couldn’t find our son. He had retreated to a secluded spot, resting his head in his arms as he sat on an exercise machine. His request was totally a selfless one on behalf of their daughter. It was his last Thanksgiving and I wonder if he suspected that. He was always a generous soul, so I was pleased to be able to honor his wish.

Throughout my life, I’ve experienced many an empty chair from various older relatives. Nothing, however, compares to the deep grief from a seat vacated by one’s child.

First empty chair Christmas

While approaching our first Christmas without our son, a dull dread infiltrated my being. It can seem overwhelming to contemplate the extra work of shopping, decorating, cooking and cleaning when one’s heart is heavy. What could I do?

One of the things I did during the fall that year, was to begin going through old photos. It was very healing to reminisce via those images. I traversed through the years of raising our son and watching him as he and his wife began their family. Since our granddaughter was only four years old when she lost her daddy, I wanted to give her a way to remember him though these photos. I made her (as well as us) some children’s picture books. One book was of her dad as a very young child. A second one was comparing her dad’s childhood to his adulthood. The third book was contrasting our granddaughter to her dad doing similar things. Of course, the third one was her favorite!

Preparing myself

Next, I had to cope with preparing for the empty chair holidays. Our tree was such a large monstrosity, my husband and I just decided to donate it and purchase a much smaller table top model. This seemed to somewhat ease my mind.

Another issue was that I couldn’t bear to look at the Christmas stockings I had made for our children when they were wee little. The mere sight of any stockings made my heart ache. As our two children are/were well into adulthood, perhaps we could just surrender this tradition.

Interestingly, putting up the smaller tree went quite smoothly. While I was adorning the tree, I opened a nearby window blind. During the decorating, I noticed a flutter out of the corner of my eye. There was a mourning dove flitting at the window. That just happened to be our son’s favorite bird, so it felt as if he was giving me the message that he was still with us!

As to the meal, our daughter and daughter-in-law were wonderful help with the food prep, so shared work made a light load.

Yes, within the support of our intimate family gathering, there were some tears, but with great love comes great grief. Sometimes our hearts are just so full of love, that some of it can’t help but leak from our eyes.

Any kind of empty chair holidays can be a challenge, whether it be birthdays, anniversaries or traditional holidays. Please consider whatever it takes to get you through it. Maybe create some new traditions. Delegate, simplify and compromise. Take care of your well-being. If you need a grief counselor, perhaps that could be the best holiday gift you could give yourself. Take care and know that my sympathies are with you.

Published by Linda M. Wolfe

Midwestern mystic with varying amounts of mother, teacher, artist, seeker

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