Guest Post

The Empty Chair. Finding Joy this Holiday Season

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Finding joy in the holiday season can be tough. Sometimes, the joy isn’t found as much as it’s chosen.

For some, holidays are a struggle because unforgiveness in the family still resides or the personality conflicts haven’t been resolved. But for others, holidays are a reminder of loss. The magnify what or who is no longer there. Whether that’s a job, a home, a marriage, or a loved one.

In the last few weeks, I’ve shared devotionals on Psalm 100: First, we talked about WHY we should give God thanks–because He is our Creator and He is our Redeemer. Next, we’re going to dig into HOWs.

But before we do, I invited my friend December Orpen to share her story of seeking and choosing joy this holiday season. About 16 months ago her teenage son was killed in a car accident. Their grief is still there. The chair is still empty. The memories haven’t faded.


IMG_4719The anticipation of the holidays our first year was more so fear of the empty chair. We were still protected by our shock and grief fog that we made it through somehow. This is our second year of experiencing the holiday seasons as we lost Tyler 16 months ago and we are feeling everything. The pain is raw, it is felt in its entirety as we are no longer protected by the comfort shock gives.

Our family looks like any other family as we navigate through our days. We appear normal, but even on our best days, we are crushed inside. We are deeply saddened. Even on our hardest days, we hide our pain so others do not see what we are going through. Especially our last 3 months as we have been dealing with a heavy load with one of our children’s grief. Every single thing we experience reminds us that our son & brother is not here to celebrate or enjoy with us.

Can you imagine living a joyful life but at the exact time feel complete deep sadness? Those are the moments that take our breath away. Imagine if you had to live every day and every holiday without one or more of your precious children. So how can we live with joy after losing our son and brother? Because we knew and loved him….we know pure joy! Because we have a God who is bigger than us, we know unspeakable joy!

I won’t pretend to tell you how we will survive this holiday season as I do not have a clue. What I’m told is we need to do a few things to help us prepare for what it will bring. We need to give ourselves grace, a schedule of things we want to do and don’t want to do. To know its ok if we change things up and break traditions. We have a new normal.

A new normal we loathe but have no other choice than to accept. We have to put limitations on our participation as things may get overwhelming. Give ourselves grace when we agree to plans one day but then if that day comes be comfortable enough to back out of the plans if it’s too much for our hearts at the time. We are undependable that way, but it’s not in a bad way, it’s just our new normal. Some people are caring &  understand and some just don’t.

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As hard as the holidays may be it is important to make room for joy. We need to make room for joy just as much as we make room for our grief. Traditions are probably the scariest things to face as each holiday approaches. Tyler was a huge part of those traditions and the void is immense. He loved to carve the meat, our last Christmas we spent with him he bought me an electric carving knife so that following Easter he jumped at the chance to help carve the ham. He loved to help Shawn put giant Christmas lightbulbs up lining our stairway.  We have joy as we have two new grandbabies, with the joy of seeing them it reminds us that Tyler will never know his niece and nephew.

This holiday season will simply be a season of survival for us and that is okay. God understands how we feel, after all, we celebrate Christmas because God sent his only son to earth to save us. He understands our grief even more than we do, and we cling to our faith and his promises every single day. Holidays are hard and lonely but we are trying to focus our hurt into honoring Tyler’s memory by blessing others this season the best we can.

‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” ‘ Exodus 14:14 NIV

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