The Empty Chair at the Table – Navigating the Holidays after Loss

Corrie Sirota Coping with grief during the holidays

The Empty Chair at the Table – Navigating the Holidays after Loss

One of the most challenging experiences for mourners is how to manage a holiday after their loved one has died. As a bereavement counsellor, I listen to mourners describe the love that they experienced for years in relation to universal holidays such as Christmas, Mothers Day, Father’s Day, and then after the death of their loved one dies, how they dread each holiday, particularly as it approaches. These reactions are very much related to meaning – what meaning you attach to the holiday or event will have a direct impact on what reactions/emotions or feelings you will experience on that day. With that in mind, here are some practical suggestions to help you navigate your way through the next holiday that comes your way:

1. Remember Everyone Grieves Differently – so while the holidays may be rather difficult for you, it can be rather comforting to other family members who choose to honour the deceased on that day.
2. Acknowledge your feelings out loud – grief shared can be grief diminished. Don’t be afraid to talk about your loved one. If others are uncomfortable, then find friends who can listen.
3. Change it up – Just because you made a certain meal, or engaged in a specific tradition, doesn’t mean you must continue that tradition. Do what feels right. I call this creating “New Normals
4. Identify ways to honour of the deceased – This suggestion combines creating new traditions with specific ways that you feel will help honour your loved one – whether it’s lighting a candle, making a donation or volunteering at a favourite charity. Engaging in these activities can make a huge difference of how you feel and serve as an excellent role model for those around you.
5. Practice Self Care – In an effort to take care of others, we forget how important it is to take care of ourselves. Remember to do something for yourself; just like on an airplane in an emergency, you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can help others.
6. If you need help, ask for it! It has been said, ‘No man is an island”, nor is any griever. It’s OK not to be OK, and it’s equally OK to seek support from family, friends or a health care professional.

Every holiday will inevitably have it’s own unique challenges. Here’s my suggestion; as you find yourself looking around the room and staring at that empty chair, please also take a moment to look around the room and take stock of who you still have.

May you have a peaceful holiday season.

I’m sorry for your loss.