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The Empty Chair

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

It can be the most difficult during the Christmas season...

The family festivities just don't seem as ... well ... festive.

Mom didn't bake her gumdrop cake this year. Dad didn't dance around the kitchen while the turkey was in the oven. We didn't watch the favorite family Christmas movie together. In late November, every year, I would drive 2 hours to my parent's home just to decorate for the season. Now those same decorations are scattered throughout the family, packed in boxes and hopefully being used.

The season just doesn't seem complete without everyone around the table, and a lot of families are feeling it.

Sometimes, we grieve those who are still living, but can't be with us. Perhaps they're ill, live in another city or are disconnected from the family. It can be painful. Some activities we will still enjoy, some activities we will attempt, and some will just have to wait.

Grief is unique. We don't experienced the same way, even if we're in the same family and grieving the same person. Grief can cause shock, which can actually be measured within the brain. A grieving person does almost nothing or goes through the motions on auto-pilot.

Grief is the normal and natural response to loss. It is normal to be overwhelmed when an event or series of events occurs. It's normal to feel lost, dazed, confused and frustrated when significant losses affect our lives. It's okay to give yourself permission to grieve. But how do we celebrate when our people aren't together? How can we honor their memory?

When the loss is new, it can be painful. Perhaps take a special moment as a family to remember. Share the comfort of the memories.

After my parents both passed within 2 years, I bought small frames as ornaments for my tree and display my parents photos inside. It's a way to ensure that during the season they are always with me.

Sometimes we can grieve when we experience a life change, or when a dream dies. After 27 years, my marriage ended, and my kids and I moved out December 1st. I didn't sleep well, and had the boxes unpacked and decorations up within 4 days in an effort to make Christmas look and feel okay. But it didn't and it wasn't. We were grieving as our lives had just changed so dramatically. I remember when my supportive family arrived for Christmas meal. I was stirring something in a pot, just staring at the wall. I don't know how long it lasted, but when my sister noticed she took over. I'm so thankful for my family. We just do the best we can.

Living alone can be difficult during the Christmas season, but I totally decorate my place, just for me. I surround myself with specific items that bring me comfort. Having friends over also allows me a time to share my memories and my space during the season.

Just because there is change, it doesn't need to mean Christmas can't be celebrated. Yes, it will look different. Focus on the meaning of Christmas and look for peace during this season. It's true - what we look for, we will find.

The Christmas season is really a time of giving, so we can share what we have. Perhaps we have time to volunteer at a seniors home? Bake cookies for the neighbors? We could encourage others by writing Christmas cards and send them to people who may not otherwise get one. Or collect special gift items for the women in a shelter.

Sometimes when we focus on others, we can refocus on how much we actually have. Of course we'll miss our loved ones that are no longer with us, but remember all the amazing people who are still in your life!

What traditions did you really enjoy? Continue those annual activities. Perhaps taking a drive around your city looking at Christmas lights while drinking hot chocolate, or attending a local community concert, or participating in a church service with friends will be fun this year. There are many opportunities to get involved. It might look different but that's okay too. When there are gifts to share, cookies to bake and decorations in the home, it brings a sense of celebration. This might be a season to re-invent a new tradition, and make some new memories.

Be kind - to others and to yourself. Do what you can.

And leave the rest. It's okay.

May you experience the true gifts -

love, hope and peace during this Christmas season.

Sending hugs...

If you are having a difficult time, make sure you reach out to someone. Contact your local doctor, pastor or emergency hotline. Please.

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