The festive holiday tables were filled once with the loved ones who have been a part of our holiday meals for as long as we can remember.  Some were our grandparents, some our parents, some spouses and siblings, and some, our beloved children.  Last year, they were sitting right there in “their” chairs, next to us, laughing and celebrating.  How should we respond to the empty chairs, to the emptiness that fills our hearts with such sadness?  Holidays are supposed to be such a time of joy, but how can we be joyful without them?  Their chairs are empty, and our hearts are filled with heaviness.  What do we do?
We have lost something profound, and we must realize it and verbalize it.  We have lost our loved ones, those who have taught us, raised us, and been our role models and teachers.  They are gone, we are left to go on without them, and it hurts.  They were connected to our lives for so long, and now, suddenly, they’re not here.  A part of them still lives inside us.
And we have lost even more.  We have lost the order and the familiarity of sitting down together, in the very same seats that we sat in last year at this time.  We felt safe and comfortable, everyone was in their correct chair, all was right with the world.  But now, the order is all wrong.  The seating is different, because different people are sitting in those chairs.  When our loved ones die – or divorce out of the family – we are adrift, without rudders to guide us.  Not only do we miss them, but we miss the certainty of the familiar.  Who will sit in Papa’s chair this year?  How could anyone fill his chair, or his place in the family?  When a matriarch or patriarch dies, the family roles are now also adrift.  Who will be the next family leader?  Who will chart the family’s emotional direction, who will be the historian, who will be the family spokesman?  Who will we call when a family crisis occurs?  Death affects us in countless ways, many of them coming to the surface at our holiday celebration times.
What shall we do?  How can we begin to create a “new normal” for our family?  First, by verbalizing our feelings of loss.  At the beginning of the holiday meal, why not take a minute or two to remember those not there this year.  Go around the table and tell stories, laugh together at the good times of the past, cry together at the profound loss.  Make the pain public, share the past so that you can then begin to create the future. Those you’ve lost may not be with you in person, but they will always be with you in spirit.  Make their spirits a part of your family’s holiday meals, and then your loved ones will live on in your lives for as long as your memory of them lives on.  And then you will have found and discovered one of life’s great secrets – You are still alive!  You can still be vibrant, passionate, and committed to yourself and your family.  Life will be different without those you’ve lost, but you will help create that new life that will bring you and your family a new order, a new familiarity, a new sense of power and creativity. And that is certainly worth a holiday celebration.

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