The empty seat at the table

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Geralyn Nathe-Evens is a columnist for Catholic United Financial
Believe In Love

Blog by Geralyn Nathe-Evens

Catholic United Financial member Geralyn Nathe-Evans is a licensed nurse with a master’s degree in pastoral ministry. Through her education, career practice and suffering the death of her own husband in 2014, Nathe-Evans is a compassionate, optimistic voice finding the glory and comfort of God in our most trying moments. She can be contacted at believenlove@yahoo.com.

“How do I get through these days?” is a common question I hear, and a common thought I have had myself.

This holiday, many of us gather missing our loved ones. Not everyone in and family or inner circle of friends can attend our gatherings and we miss their faces. Then there are those (some we love the most) who have died and will never again gather with us in our earthly spaces.

“How do I get through these days?” is a common question I hear, and a common thought I have had myself. After we lose someone whom we deeply love, celebratory moments can become a mix of emotions, thoughts and feelings. Moments of quiet may change from relief to hours of deeper loneliness and overwhelming sadness. For many people grieving, holidays can become some of the most difficult days, and the most difficult nights.

Pretending these emotions are not present is not helpful. I suggest that we “move” into those moments. I am not suggesting we settle into a place of sadness and despair for the holidays. I do suggest that we recognize, name, embrace and “move” into our continued healing.

Those we gather with may, too, be hurting and mourning the loss of beloved family and friends. I offer some suggestions that may be of help.

Having experienced the past four years of Christmas without my beloved has been very difficult. I expect to again have moments of deep pain this year. But I have also identified some practices and actions that I have found to give support and comfort to my healing. I hope you may, too, find these to be of help.

Recognize the loss
Those in the life of my family are very aware that my husband and the father of my sons, is deeply missed. To hear Dave’s name spoken gives us great hope: hope that he is not forgotten and hope of a life well lived that impacted others as well. Dave remains on our minds. Saying his name honors him and us. That action is healing and supportive.

Include your beloved in your holiday gatherings
We place three candles and an empty chair at our table when we gather. The empty chair recognizes the reality that we have people missing from our table. Dave, my father Gerry and my father-in-law Robley remain with us in spirit and love. We light the candles and say their names. We include them in our prayers. We honor their lives and our loss. We invite others who gather with us to light a candle and name their beloved as well.

Passing on funny stories, favorite memories and ways our beloved impacted our gatherings can be great steps to honor and heal.

Sharing of Stories
Encourage stories of beloved family and friends to be told. Telling the stories can be great ways to remind ourselves of the great moments and events in our lives. Our stories within the greatest story of our faith can give meaning and hope to our days. Passing on funny stories, favorite memories and ways our beloved impacted our gatherings can be great steps to honor and heal.

Have a backup plan
If you just cannot bring yourself to join in gathering, festivities or celebrations, that is okay, too. Sometimes the pressure I placed on myself in my early days after Dave’s death was heavy and unbearable. Give yourself permission to leave holiday gatherings early, or even to skip an event.

Be gentle, kind and understanding with yourself
Protect yourself and be comfortable doing the best you can, given the circumstances. Allow others to help; most of us love helping others. Extend that gift to others with grace for them to support you.

Allow time to honor your grief
Recognize the grief and your need for time and space. Embracing the pain of loss can allow us to reconcile the pain and to heal. Remember, as my friend and author Alan Wolfelt writes, “…to live well we must mourn well.”

For me, these days are among the most challenging. I will continue to grieve and mourn all the days of my life. That is the consolation of love and loss. And I pray, I continue to pray for myself, our sons, our families and friends. I will be especially be praying for you! “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Read more of Geralyn’s posts and about her background on Believe In Love blog.