Empty Chairs at the Holiday Table

Loss of Family during the Holiday Season - Famly at Thanksgiving Table

This is a wonderful time of year to pause and count our blessings. Unfortunately for some, the holiday season is also one of sadness and loss. I lost my father a number of years ago, and Thanksgiving is when I find myself thinking of him often; a time when I feel his absence most acutely.

On top of that, a few days ago my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We are meeting to discuss treatment with her surgeon on the day before Thanksgiving. For any of you who have not already hit the back button on your browser, I promise, this post will lighten up a bit. Stick with me.

Please note: This is a re-post of a Thanksgiving blog from a few years ago I wanted to share with new readers. And I’m very happy to say mom’s surgery went well and she’s doing great!

When my mother found out she had cancer last week, her first comment was, “this better not mess up our family Thanksgiving plans.” Thanksgiving has always been a big deal in our home. And while I’m confident my mom will get through this, I realize some day I will be the oldest member of my family.

Growing up as kids, we probably thought our parents would always be there. Even as we became adults, the knowledge they were still there was comforting. Eventually we all may be faced with empty chairs at our Thanksgiving tables. It’s our choice, though, how we allow that situation to affect us.

As for me, I will do my best to be grateful during the holidays for the time I had with those we’ve lost. My dad (a Naval aviator, businessman & rancher) was always bigger than life, and to me, he still is. That said, he taught me, no matter how big someone seemed, there was no one smaller than him.

On Thanksgiving he never failed to bring home “strays”; people he met who had no families to go home to, and sometimes no homes. He taught me both parts of the word “Thanks-Giving” were important. Be thankful for all you have, when you have it & them. And be sure to give to those who have less than you.

So these holidays, I’m grateful for all the wonderful memories I have of my dad, the time we spent together, and the lessons he taught me. He really never told me what he was doing or why… he simply taught by example. And I’m still learning new things from him as each year passes.

I’m confident my mom will beat the breast cancer and will be with us for many, many more Thanksgivings. But when the day comes that we have another empty chair at our holiday table, I’m going to be giving thanks yet again for all the wonderful memories and love we’ve shared.

In closing, I want to wish you and yours a very safe and happy holiday season. And if you, like many, have empty chairs at your holiday table, please try to count the many blessings the missing occupants of those chairs brought to your lives. Oh, and if you could say a prayer for my mom, I’d be grateful.



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  1. I am sorry for your loss. Thanksgiving still isn’t the same without my cousin and aunt. Its been six years and still miss him. I’ve posted what I’m most thankful for at http://www.ordinaryparent.com. I think the top of my list is my wife and new baby girl.

    1. I’m sorry for the loss of your cousin and aunt. My wife is very close to her cousins, so I can imagine how difficult that must be, even after 6 years. I’ll drop by http://www.ordinaryparent.com shortly, Jason. I, too, am most grateful for my wonderful wife and baby girl, so we have that in common. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Have a good Thanksgiving.

    • Elizabeth (@ferg_e) on at
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    I am so sorry for your loss, so happy that you have such a great dad, thinking good strong healing thoughts for your mom and wishing you a fantastic Thanksgiving ALL AT THE SAME TIME!!! 🙂

    For me, this year Thanksgiving is about what I came so close to losing but didn’t. This time last year we were preparing for my 4 year olds surgery. He was getting sicker and sicker no matter what we did and I was terrified that…. So Thanksgiving and Christmas were a blur of trying so hard to make them AMAZING and wanting to curl up in a ball and not think. This year he is good, strong and healthy and I am oh so grateful for all of the little things and for the huge life lesson of figuring out what is important and what really isn’t.

    1. I am oh so grateful for all of the little things and for the huge life lesson of figuring out what is important and what really isn’t.

      I’m so very happy your boy is better now. Honestly I cannot even entertain the thought of losing my 3yo girl. So, as you say, let’s pay attention too all the small moments that make our lives so special. Thank you for your kind thoughts for my mom, Elizabeth. Thanks for putting your Twitter ID so I’d recognize you straight off. Have a very safe and happy Thanksgiving!

  2. We have lost both my grandparents within the last couple of years. Our huge family always used to meet at their retirement house nestled amongst a 50 acre sugar bush. Not only have we lost their presence at the table….we lost the whole table!! A ginormous harvest table in their big country kitchen that would easily seat 20. More if you were lucky enough to get grandma or grandpa’s knee before your 22 other cousins scrambled up!
    What a blessing! We no longer have them, or that table….but each year members of the family assume hosting duty for the holidays. Each year we are crowded at little dinettes, coffee tables and TV trays, sharing a meal and memories.
    Family is more than heirlooms tucked away in boxes….it’s that legacy we are bound to carry forward!

    Absolutely wonderful post Michael!! And will most certainly keep your mom in my prayers.

    1. Family is more than heirlooms tucked away in boxes….it’s that legacy we are bound to carry forward!

      That’s just lovely, and what wonderful memories you have of your Thanksgivings with your grandparents. I’m so sorry for your loss, but it sounds like they are still very much with you. Thank you for your prayers for my mom, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom’s illness. I believe that with surgery, prayer (and other methods of prayer) help people, so I will make sure to include her in my prayers and meditations. There is an acupuncturist who is working with oncology and has had success, his name is Dr. Wang Fuda, just in case you wanted to go that route.

    Since my Gram passed this year, (Christmas was her biggest holiday, everything was Christmas during the holidays, with a tree in every room, and a decorations everywhere, and just her Christmas spirit) she will be missed so much. I am working on decorating over the top this year to make her smile in heaven:) Also, yesterday just made her welsh cookie recipe for my Mom, who she used to make them for every holiday! I am grateful for our health and happiness (for us and for our friends and family and puppies!) and for our new home!
    Sending you, Shan and Molly lots of love:) – Nikki

    1. I love that you are going to “decorate over the top” for Christmas this year to make your Gram smile in heaven. I know she’ll get a kick out of that. Wonder if there’s a place to plug in lights on her cloud? 😉 I know it’s fresh, and like that you can smile about it even still. Thanks you for your prayers, thoughts and meditations for my mom. I’m certain my daughter misses her “Aunty Nikki” so get your butt down here sometime soon. Oh, and your house looks AWESOME. I knew it’d be great, but OMG you all (and your dad) are turning that into something really special. Have a great Thanksgiving!

  4. I am very grateful I have both parents &everyday am able to care for them both. That said, I have empty chairs at my table of my children & grand children each year. Loss is not always total but the time you miss due to other circumstances. I am grateful for when we talk on Thanksgiving day. Thanks Michael & Happy Thanksgiving to you, Shannon, Miss Molly & a pat for strider too. Hugs.

    1. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Elenore. Yes, the occupants of our holiday tables change from year to year, some briefly and some forever. But I hold the memories of those I love close, even when I can’t always hold them. Sending big *hugs*!

  5. Michael, thank you for this beautiful post. I am also sorry for the loss of your Dad. He sounds like he was an amazing man and that the world was made richer by his having been a part of it.
    And I will also offer up prayers for your Mom that she quickly enters remission with as little suffering as possible.
    This Thanksgiving is a mix for me. I am completely grateful for so many people in my life, grateful for my wonderful husband, grateful for new friends and old, grateful for my church community, grateful for my job that I enjoy, and grateful for a good life overall. I am sad for the family members and friends that I have lost this year, both those who have passed on and those whose mental illnesses have overtaken their lives. But this Thanksgiving, I will honor them all and send out love to all of them. They have all given meaning to my life, whether it be in life lessons or with the gifts of who they are. May you and your family feel the love that is sent out as it will be meant to fall on you all as well. Thank you for the abundant gifts that you and your family have given to me 🙂

    1. Clearly it’s I that should be thanking you, Laura. I’m so blessed by friends like you and your husband (as well as so many more), whom I’d not have met but through the same twists of fate that brought me my wonderful wife. Thank you for the kind words about my father. Like all of us, he was human, but I choose to remember the many, many wonderful time and lessons he taught by example. And thank you for your prayers for my mom. We met with her surgeon this morning, and while much is still unknown, there is reason to hope for a positive outcome. Have a lovely Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and beyond!

  6. I wish I’d had the chance to meet your dad, but I am so grateful I have gotten to know your mom. She is a fighter for sure- and she has a wonderful family that loves her and will support her and encourage her to beat this and to be healthy in Thanksgivings to come. Love ya.

    1. Thank you, sweetheart. Of all the things I have to be grateful for, you and our little girl top the list. I’m the luckiest husband and father in the world. I’m sorry you didn’t meet my dad. He’d have loved you, as I do. And yes, the doctor has been encouraging so far regarding my mom’s cancer prognosis. I appreciate your support, and everyone’s prayers. I love you.

    • Stephan Hilson on at
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    Happy Thanksgiving. I am sorry to learn about your loss of father and your mom’s illness. I wish that your mom will recover very soon.

    I am grateful for all the blessings in this holiday season. And taking pictures of the great event will help me keep the memory alive with the family.

    1. You make a good point, Stephan. Photos and films are a great way to preserve some memories. The only problem I’ve found is one can spend so much time behind the camera that you aren’t really fully present at the event. Maybe that’s just me? Still I love photos, and my 3 year old girl is growing up so fast so I’m happy to have them. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

  7. I’m so sorry to hear about your Mom my dear friend. I’m glad that you were able to enjoy Thanksgiving with your family around you albeit there was an empty chair. Though the chair might have been empty, you keep your Dad warmly in your heart and that indeed is a wonderful thing. As you know, I was able to spend Thanksgiving with my daughter and her children for Thanksgiving this year; we had an empty chair as well since my husband was not able to make the trip to join us; but it pales in comparison to your empty chair and the empty chairs of others (myself included) who have lost dear ones. For me, it is Christmas which makes my heart ache; my Dad passed away years ago 3 days after Christmas…and Christmas was his favorite time of the year. I am trying to revive that love for the holiday. I’m sure you had a great Thanksgiving and we send much love and prayers to you, yours and your Mom. <3 Hugs

    1. I can understand how your father’s passing so close to Christmas might put a damper on that holiday, but I hope with time it eases a bit. It is such a lovely time of year. Thank you for your prayers for my mother. Her surgery has been delayed until after Christmas, so she’ll be able to spend it with all of us, including her granddaughter (my little girl) upon whom she dotes so. 🙂

  8. I’m sad to see that I hadn’t seen this blog sooner and commented sooner. I think my google reader lost you for some reason .

    I hope you and Kevin felt good about meeting with the docs with your mom, and feel like solace in the plan of action. I also will be keeping you all in our prayers for a quick and positive recovery from both the surgery and follow ups.


    1. Thank you, Danielle. Yes, the doctor seems very good. The surgery has been postponed until just after New Years. Which is nice in a way, as my mom (if she can avoid thinking too much about it) can enjoy Christmas and New Year’s with us. Hugs right back at ya!

  9. It goes without saying that my heart and prayers are always with you and your lovely family. Since you know of my losses, I won’t bore you with them here. This Thanksgiving, we had a few empty chairs, but not as many as is normal for us because Stacy & her family were here this year. While I, as an aging (yes I did say that) parent would love nothing more than to be surround by my family each and every holiday, as you stated, I am grateful for the many blessings and lessons that those in my life have given and taught. Not just during the holidays but each and every day of the year. PS. We have a small dining room & I created a “Count Your Blessings” wall with various family photos above the dining room table. This way, no matter how many empty chairs there might be…all I have to do is look up…they are there…on the wall…and it makes me smile. Love & hugs to you & yours…special prayers for your mom

    1. We have a small dining room & I created a “Count Your Blessings” wall with various family photos above the dining room table. This way, no matter how many empty chairs there might be…all I have to do is look up…they are there…on the wall…and it makes me smile.

      What a super idea, Mitzi! Love it. Sending you and yours a very Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year!

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