Bittersweet Holidays – How to Cope With an Empty Seat at the Table



The holidays have a way of making the absence of a loved one feel more acute. From reaching out to those who couldn’t make the visit to finding ways to remember those we have lost, coping with an empty seat at the table may not be quite as challenging as you had feared. The holidays can be tough and bittersweet when you have loved ones that can’t afford to fly home, that are serving in the armed forces, and family that is long gone. Finding new ways to celebrate the holiday can help to strengthen bonds and ensure that absent loved ones are not forgotten.

Toasting the Occasion

A toast may seem like a small thing, but it can often make a big difference. Sharing stories, memories and well wishes for those loved ones who are not in attendance over a drink is a great way to begin a holiday dinner. For families that have suffered a recent loss or loved ones who are constantly traveling, spending some time sharing a few treasured memories can count for a lot.

You may consider having a place for them at the table. If you do place cards make sure they have one with their name on it. This way everyone can go around the room and share a memory. You will make space for them in your heart and will provide context to grieve their absence instead of having it awkwardly be something that nobody addresses.

Phone Calls and Video Chats

Technology can also play a role in bringing families together for the holiday season. From relatives who are away on business to military families or a marine mom who may have a child overseas, a simple holiday phone call can be a gift in its own right. Video chats can provide an even more memorable exchange and families may wish to set aside some time to schedule a conference call with any members who were unable to make it home in time to celebrate.

Cards and Gifts

Leaving a gift behind or even writing a thoughtful card to be presented during a holiday is another way to help cope with being apart during the holidays. Being able to read a card or letter to the rest of the family means that even absent members will still be able to participate in the festivities. Emails and even text messages can help to soften the disappointment in the event that a family member is called away suddenly or is unable to make other plans.

If you are missing someone because of the distance you can find solace that it’s not because they have passed on. Chances are you still have other family and support systems around you. Sending them a thoughtful care package can be a way for them to feel you close when you are far away. Printed pictures, plushies, goodies from home, sweaters, are all ways that they can physically remember you and feel your love.

Remember to Be Thankful

While having your holiday plans dashed by an unexpected absence can be frustrating, staying focused on the positive means that such issues are less likely to spoil your holiday. Finding ways to remember the good times or making an effort to be thankful is a great way to preserve the holiday spirit. Better ways to cope and handle an empty seat at the table helps to ensure that the entire family will be able to make the most out of the occasion, regardless of where they happen to find themselves during the holiday season.


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