Empty Chairs, Tiny Stockings
by Kara L.C. Jones

Part of the on-going loss after the death of a loved one, is the continued silence and invisibility that is created as we get further and further away from the date of death. I challenge all of you this holiday season to create tangible expressions for giving voice and visibility to your loss, grief, healing, and to the empty space left by the loved one who has died.

If family members or friends or even care givers wince or whine at your tangible expressions, I enourage you to push back and tell them that these expressions are not obsessive, but conscious decisions to keep the memory of *all* family members alive on this Earth. After all, what is Christmas if you are Christian? Celebrating the life of a man who has been dead a couple thousand years, aye? Well, then why can't you celebrate your dead child's life and memory? If you are not Christian, then I encourage you to celebrate with whatever your traditions may be -- seasonal Winter Solstice, Jewish Chanukah, African Kwanzaa -- all of which involve lighting candles, honoring survival, cherishing the *whole* family.

How? Well, let me offer a few suggestions:

  • If you hang stockings, hang extra ones for the loved ones who have died. Ask family and friends to fill the stockings with writings about the loved ones who are not here anymore. Encourage people to put in photos or treasured bits of memoriabilia. When it's time for gift-opening, have everyone explore the stockings for the ancestors, read the writings outloud, share stories about the photos. Treasure those who have shaped your family! Then move on to celebrate the gifts for everyone else.
  • If you light candles for your holidays, ask that each night someone (or everyone) come prepared with a story (written or oral) about loved ones who have died. After the prayers are said, the candles lit, then take turns going around the room sharing memories, laughter, tears.
  • If your holiday involves eating at a table with chairs, then be sure to set one extra place. That chair should remain empty during the meal, but make sure the plate gets heaped with food and the glass gets filled with drink! It is an offering of abundance, of love and care, to the memory of our loved ones. Before the meal, ask others to read notes they've written or share a story about the loved ones who are gone. Bring the spirit of the whole family into the room for the meal. (At the end of the meal, take the full plate of food and pass it around for everyone to have a bite of it -- or share it with your pets -- or place it outside on the doorstep for the hungry ghosts.)

Whatever your traditions, I put forth here that it is most healthy and wholistic to create tangible celebrations that include *all* your loved ones, living and dead. I encourage you to have some of those celebrations in the form of the written word, because that leaves those tangible notes and papers for re-reading tomorrow or the day after or in the New Year. Just like you will have photos of the living family members from this holiday season. The pieces of paper on which you write about your dead loved one will be available for perusal and review throughout the year.

And it can't be a bad thing to move the holiday focus away from consumerism and more toward something heartfelt and meaningful for everyone!

Miracles to you and yours this season.


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