How to Fill the Empty Seat at the Thanksgiving Table

When tragedy strikes, it becomes a line of demarcation. Like the rings in the trunk of a tree, each misfortune leaves a permanent mark on our souls. There is “before” and “after.” Time marches to a different cadence in the Land of After. The calendar ticks off “should have beens,” “could have beens,” and “would have beens.” The calendar in the Land of After chronicles time with “milestones” and “firsts” nonexistent in the Land of Before.

On a conventional calendar, today is Thanksgiving. In the Land of After, it marks exactly 36 weeks since the last time that I hugged Brooke’s neck, felt the warmth of her cheek, or heard her laughter. In the Land of Before, she should have been coming home for her first Thanksgiving break as a college freshman. She would have been so full of herself imparting her new-found wisdom on each of us.

In the Land of After, today is the first Thanksgiving with an empty chair.

The chair sits there – empty and mocking our attempts to fill it. But fill it, we must.

How? How do you fill an empty chair that should have been brimming with laughter, love, and hope? You invite laughter, love, and hope to stop by and take their rightful place at the table.


Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.” Luke 6:21. As we feast on our Thanksgiving banquet, our bellies will be filled and satisfied. As we feast on the memories of our missing loved ones, our souls will be filled and satisfied.

So many of our memories are a wellspring of chuckles and giggles, guffaws and belly laughs. What a blessing  to reminisce with family and friends.  Like the ground in the rainy season that can’t absorb another drop – hearts saturated with melancholy ache for relief.

Laughter provides that release and truly is the best medicine. “A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22. A healing washes over us when tears of woe commingle with tears of merriment. At that moment when we can no longer distinguish one tear from the other, our dried bones soak up the magical elixir mending our broken spirit.

Yes, laughter is welcomed to fill that empty seat.


“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8. Thank, God, for small (or not so small in this case) favors. I have failed many times as a mom, a wife, a sister, a friend, a daughter, and so on. Thankfully, love has saved the day on more than one occasion.

The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief – But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.” Hilary Stanton Zunin

Love and grief are nothing more than two sides of the same coin. Love and grief are inextricably intertwined. We could waltz through life never experiencing pain and loss, but by definition that would mean never to experience true love. How trivial life would be if we never loved.

If laughter is the elixir that resurrects broken spirits, love is the mortar that binds us tightly in spite of our failings. Love is a gentle hand pulling us toward the dance floor when ache robs our will.

Yes, love is welcomed to fill that empty seat.


“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” C. S. Lewis – A Grief Observed. How does one overshadow “misery’s shadow?” How does one cast away the heavy cloak of constant grief? You must invite hope to the fete.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6. This is hope distilled to its essence – trust in the Lord and do not lean on your own understanding. In order to trust the Lord and to submit to him, we must hold steadfast to his truths: the Lord loves each and every one of us – more than we can even fathom; the Lord is just; and our Lord God is sovereign and all-knowing. 

The world tells us that we can do it on our own. We can rely on our own strength. We are the masters of our own destiny. Hope reminds us that we don’t have to.

Hope in the wake of loss can be cagey, slippery, and most difficult to snare. Just when you think you have it in your grasp, it dissipates like a vapor. Yet, we must suit up and pursue the hunt. The alternative is simply too grim.

Yes, hope is welcomed to fill that empty seat.

Laughter, Love & Hope

My sincere prayer for each of you on this day of thanksgiving is that laughter, love, and hope will RSVP “yes” to your invitation to fill the empty seat at your table – regardless of what may be the cause of the void. May laughter, love, and hope form a potent potion to soothe your aching soul. May your blessings overshadow any misery that may befall you. All this I ask for you in the name of our savior, Jesus Christ.


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