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Feeling the Loss of a Loved One at Thanksgiving

An empty chair with a flower crown sitting on it
November 22, 2021
95.1 SHINE-FM Erin Branham
Erin Branham

The holidays can be a hard time for so many. When everyone is shouting, “Be thankful!” or “Be joyful!” or “Get in the Christmas spirit!” there are many who are just struggling to put on their socks.

The pain of grief can feel overwhelming during the holidays when you’ve lost a loved one. How do you celebrate without this person when every holiday memory includes them? Sometimes, the pain is just too raw.

Three years ago, my uncle passed away suddenly from cancer shortly before Thanksgiving. Ten days after discovering he had cancer for the third time, cancer took him. While this is the third year without him, his memory is so tied to our holiday traditions, as his memory should be. I carry the memory of him at Thanksgiving, Diet Coke bottle in hand, pretzels stashed in the pocket of his Washington Football Team hoodie, waiting for the Thanksgiving football game to come on while he played with his grandchildren. At dinner (which was more like a buffet with food spread to every corner of the kitchen), we’d go around in a circle and share something we’re thankful for. My uncle usually kicked the gratitude prayer off for us.

The thing is, the holiday(s) will come and go, with or without us on board. What we do get to do is choose how we’ll mark the holiday. It won’t be the same as it was before, and it’s okay.

As we’ve discovered with the pandemic, it’s okay to not do things the same way. When we’re carrying grief, it’s okay to ask others for help and tell others you don’t feel like you can celebrate. It’s okay to grieve.

Grief looks different for everyone, including members of the same family. Some may feel like celebrating and honoring the missing family member; others may not because it’s too painful. It’s okay. Remember to give grace to yourself and others as you mourn. Most importantly, stay connected, even if it’s a text reaching out to tell someone you feel like you’re drowning. Isolation is one of Satan’s greatest tools to keep us hidden and overwhelmed by our feelings. If you don’t feel like you can talk to friends or family, you might want to consider reaching out Focus on the Family’s counseling hotline or locally to Safe Harbor Christian Counseling. It’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes, validation of pain makes a difference.

If you’re reading this and you know someone who has lost a loved one, reach out to tell them you’re thinking about them. It makes a difference to know someone is thinking about you, doesn’t it?

The holidays will look different, and it will be okay. Do what you can, give yourself grace, and even though we may not have met, know that I’m lifting up prayers for you.

The Empty Chair Prayer
The pies are in the freezer, the turkey’s on the list,
But this Thanksgiving, oh how a loved one will be missed!
Lord Jesus, please hear our Thanksgiving prayer,
For those gathered around a table that has an empty chair,
Oh Lord, comfort their hearts-we know that you are able.
And let them know that this year, there’s another chair at Heaven’s Table!

-Erica Parkerson


This article originally appeared on SHINE Daily 11/8/2018 and has been republished.

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