The Empty Seat at the Table
by Susan B. Mead, Contributing Writer
“Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas” we are used to hearing and saying. Yet at times, Christmas is far from merry. When Christmas isn’t merry, it creates unique challenges for everyone in the home – and in the family.
How can Christmas not be merry?
Great question. For me, it was the loss of my 20-year-old college aged son that created an empty seat at the Christmas table. For others, the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, sibling, niece or nephew, in-law, friend or child creates a hole begging to be filled and a seat at the table that remains empty.
A miscarriage or still-born baby leaves empty arms and broken hearts that desperately need healing, yet the hurt is so very real. That empty seat is a car seat. Deserted. Yes, many times these precious family members feel deserted. By God, by life, by family and friends who don’t know what to say, so they stay away.
So what do you say on that day when hearts are broken and feelings are frayed?
I learned three things that matter.
1) Your presence and words matter
Saying I can’t imagine…
Nothing more. Nothing less. Those words embrace them, their loss, and their pain, showing you care. Deeply. And you are there, for them, with them, regardless of the pain it causes you to share in theirs.
When we add words after I can’t imagine, we are likely to add our own emotions, thoughts and feelings. Is that fair for us to put words in the mouths of our wounded family member(s)? Or would you rather simply acknowledge that you have no idea what they are going though, how they feel or what they need?
I can’t imagine…yet I care. Simply be with them.
2) Say the name of their lost loved one. Hearing the name of that precious person matters and makes a difference in the healing process. Avoiding speaking the name actually hurts everyone there, so share stories, let tales, weave words that pull the corners of their lips up into a smile, even if for a moment. A hearty laugh may even break forth as a rip-roaring story breaks the barriers, pulling walls down and lightening heavy loads.
So say their name…
3) Pull out the pictures! The best gift I got the first Christmas after losing Kyle was a digital photo frame from Holt. He scanned in over 600 irreplaceable (Irreplaceable = there would be no more new photos of Kyle. Ever.) What a treasure.
Now that’ll start the stories flowing – maybe a few tears too (OK, a bucket load!), yet treasure the tears. God does. He collects every one of them in a bottle. That’s how much we mean to Him. Isn’t that heartwarming?
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.
He comforts us. He heals the broken hearted. God is good, even when situations are not, God is.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
So pull up a chair to the table, set a placemat and name card for the one who is no longer there, center that honored place with several pictures or a digital photo frame loaded with memories – and let the stories start.
Have something special to them? Add it! A blankie, stuffed animal, favorite hat, sweater, swimsuit, whatever…
What a loving way to honor the one who has simply gone before us to where we want to be when it’s our turn – to the streets of gold, walking with Jesus.
There is hope. We will see them again and that’s worth celebrating.
Thank God He sent His Son Jesus to pave the way for each one of us who love Him. Yes, we miss the ones who go before us and left their seat at our table empty, yet we celebrate they are in Paradise. Heaven. Seated with Jesus at the Heavenly Christmas Table.
Wonder how many candles Jesus gets to blow out this year? You know, it’s His birthday. Happy birthday Jesus and Merry Christmas y’all!
I gotta go gather some pictures to put at that place set for Kyle. We’re gonna get some stories started soon…Oh, yea, put out some Kleenex, too…
Susan B. Mead, author, survivor, and an individual who has dealt with multiple losses, is an empathetic, powerful, sought-after speaker with real answers. Susan is a Senior Ordained Chaplain, Certified by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, for individuals and groups suffering trauma. Susan’s best-selling book Dance with Jesus: From Grief to Grace, is available on Amazon.
Susan tweets @SusanBMead, posts scripture graphics daily on Facebook and Instagram. She blogs each Friday at SusanBMead.com, where she also hosts the DanceWithJesus linkup. Get connected!
Kim Stewart says
Beautiful, sweet words from your heart, Susan! Love that you gave us all 3 ways to encourage others (and ourselves) when facing that empty seat this season. Merry Christmas!
Susan B Mead says
Thank you Kim. Your words encourage me. My Christmas table this year is different. I’ve learned there is solace for me at the BEACH.
Oh, Susan… I cannot imagine.
Thank you for these practical tips on what to say and do for the grieving. I always struggle with what to say or do when faced with such pain.
Susan B Mead says
Oh, Liz, thank you! Hugs from my heart to yours.