The empty chair at Christmas

If you’ve recently lost a partner, parent, child, sibling or a dear friend, the empty chair at the Christmas table can intensify the sorrow and bring about a complex mix of emotions. You may be reminded of the delicious feasts they cooked, the thoughtful (or quirky) presents they gave, or the silly stories they told. Whatever their trademark, and whether you found it annoying or not, you may find yourself sorely missing it – and them.

There is no right or wrong way to deal with such a significant loss during the holidays. But if you find you’re struggling, here are five suggestions which may help you through the Christmas period.

Allow yourself to grieve
Grieving is a normal response to losing a loved one. There is no set period or a ‘proper’ way to grieve. You shouldn’t yield to any pressure to move on and celebrate Christmas if don’t feel ready. On the other hand, if you wish to ‘lose’ yourself in the festivities, allow yourself to do so.

Acknowledge the departed
Some people avoid talking about the person who’s passed away, believing it will intensify their grief. However, this may deepen the sorrow, as the person becomes ‘more’ absent when they aren’t acknowledged or remembered. So, allow people to share stories – especially the funny ones. In this way, your loved one continues to be a part of your Christmas.

Take care of yourself
Even if you don’t feel up to it, make a point of looking after your health. Do your best to get enough sleep, eat well, be around loved ones and exercise regularly. Without these basic human needs, it’ll be more difficult to make sound decisions during this emotionally raw time.

Think ahead
Have a think about what you truly want to do this Christmas. Is being home alone really what you need? Do you want to host the Christmas feast at your place as usual, or would you rather someone else do it? There’s no right or wrong answer for such questions; just know what you want to do. It helps to listen to your inner self, and work out what will increase your ‘greater good’ – especially for your emotional health.

Celebrate a little differently
If celebrating the traditional way makes your loved one’s absence more painful, think about whether you want to do things a little differently. In this way, you may find new traditions over the years, while still acknowledging the person you have lost.

Karl Wolfenden, InvoCare Communications Manager says: “Grief occurs when life changes in ways we don’t expect. By being honest about what you can handle at Christmas and by finding positive ways to remember a loved one, yet not brushing over your loss, you may still be able to find comfort in this familiar time of year.”  

Let’s be honest, Christmases without a person who’s been significantly important in your life are never quite the same.  However, while the first Christmas you face after their death may feel raw, as the years go by, the loss becomes less painful. Instead, you may find the empty chair gets ‘filled’ with their loving and, at times, humorous memories.

More information about coping with grief at Christmas is available at 

Related articles:
Alone for Christmas
Why you need alone time
Eating alone encouraged

Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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