Monday, December 23, 2013

Acknowledge Empty Chair at Holiday Dinners

Although celebratory, our upcoming holidays can also be a painful, annual reminder of personal loss. It is now 40 years since my older brother and dad died. Even though I was just a young boy at that time, the memory of the hurt of their untimely deaths continues to afflict my family and me. Over the years, however, the hurt has transformed into more of a benign acceptance of death as a part of life. Much of the healing has been facilitated by simply acknowledging the grief, rather than attempting to avoid or forget it. One can never truly forget.
Too often, in a misguided effort to spare self and others from the hurt of their grief, many grieving families may attempt to avoid acknowledging the empty chair at the holiday dinner table. Unfortunately, this tactic only tends to allow for the grief to be experienced silently to oneself, while family members remain disconnected and filled with a heightened, vague sense of sadness which can linger throughout the remainder of the holiday.
On the contrary, I often encourage my patients to acknowledge the empty chair. Although this approach will undoubtedly elicit feelings of tearful grief, crying is generally a normal and healthy part of the grieving process. In this way, the grief is now an open and shared experience which has the potential to lead to a more positive holiday dinner, despite the loss. Many families may now find themselves even sharing memorable, positive times with respect to the deceased loved one.
Most grief resolves itself, over time. If you or a family member feels the need for assistance in dealing with your loss, your physician can make referrals to local grief support groups and other invaluable resources that can help.