Special dates, such as Christmas, tend to go hand in hand with nostalgia, with the memory of those who are no longer there. Sit down to dinner and see that his seat is empty, that place occupied by our husband, our father, our grandfather. In a year marked by the pandemic and the associated pain of many, this feeling will be sadly experienced in many homes. This process is called the Empty Chair Syndrome.
“This syndrome occurs when one of the family members dies”, explains Xavier Savin, psychologist. “Normally, in houses we always sit in the same place, which doesn’t make much sense, but it ends up happening,” he continues, “and then my father dies and we all continue to sit in the same place, and that chair is left empty. It refers to the moment when emotions intensify, normally because a certain date is approaching ”, he says. According to the expert, that chair that is still empty at that Christmas Eve dinner, that Christmas or that birthday, takes on a more important weight: “It refers to death, a permanent loss.”
“After explaining all this, I have to say that for me the name is wrong, because, for example, that place in my house is always busy because if no one sits down and we mention my father, we look at the chair . It is always occupied by someone or by a memory of that person with whom we fill that space, the latter occurs when we accept their death in a healthy way, ”says Savin.
“When the dates approach and we are facing a grieving process, there is a lot of guilt, that mess between being sad and having a good time continuing our life as if it were gone,” he adds Alba Valle, also a psychologist. “And this is totally normal, and that is why when talking about the Empty Chair Syndrome it seems that it was something pathological, as if someone were sick and not, it is simply like a description of all that series of emotional ups and downs.”
“And that chair already implies guilt, not only because it is empty, we are usually sitting at a table, celebrating something, and a part of us does not want to do it without that person,” explains the expert. As he maintains, that is why when we spend Christmas without that person, the first ones are usually the most difficult, “we have that feeling of nostalgia, but it is an essential part of being able to face the duel, expose ourselves to those internal experiences that we actually have. what to happen ”.
In 2020 there has been a greater number of deaths and, in addition, we must add that we are also more alone. “Both deaths from covid, and those that do not, have generated very difficult duels because we have not been able to do the duel correctly. We have not been able to see them, we have not been able to go to the funeral home, we have not been able to do the rituals to face their death and integrate what happened in a healthy way ”.
Working with empty chair syndrome children
According to Savin, there are several guidelines that can help us work with empty chair syndrome children. As he explains, it is essential to be honest with the smallest of the house: “Normally we do not like to give bad news. For example, the day before yesterday my mother’s cat was run over, and I have to tell my daughter. Well, not done yet. We don’t like to give bad news. And this makes us use euphemisms, and we say things like “grandpa is gone.” Well no, the grandfather has not left, the grandfather has died ”. Savin explains that as a rule people are empathetic, so saying something that you know is going to hurt or cause pain is difficult: “So it is not that children do not understand grief, but rather that we are the ones who sometimes we don’t explain it to them well ”.
The expert points out that it is essential that we are aware of the emotion we want to express when we deliver the news: “The right emotion does not have to be joy, it can be melancholy. For example, now with the covid I can be angry with the government, with the hospitals, with the management, well no. I must make sure that what I transmit is what I want, I cannot transmit an emotion to him with the anger that comes from an external agent, I must convey to him what that death makes me feel, of that dear person. The sorrow. The sadness”. The next step is to give real information to the child: “For example, last Tuesday, the grandfather was not feeling well and he became very malito, you always have to take into account the language, and it has passed away ”. “If I avoid the narration of events,” he continues, “if I am not assertive, it is more difficult for the child to accept death.”
Also, all traditions help us manage grief. According to Savin, “it is good for the little ones to participate, like going to the funeral home for a little while to see that people are sad and that they themselves can express it and give each other affection. They should not be left out. The traditions that are linked to funeral rites come in handy to know that there are places where I can express myself freely, I do not feel judged and I am accompanied. And it makes you able to say goodbye ”.
Finally, I must not hide from my children, or from anyone, how I feel. “If I feel sad at home because I remember, then I cry, and then I explain to my daughter what happened to me, why I remembered my grandfather.” All this does not imply that because I am sad I cannot do things that amuse me, “it is something that they should also understand”: “I am sad, but the Kings will continue to come or we will continue singing Christmas carols, for example.” The expert recommends two books that can help us work with children in the grief of a loved one: Empty, talk about the duel and Forever, it is good to explain this very definitive expression to children.
In relation to children, although it sounds very spiritual, “in order to maintain that energy of the person who has left among us, it is also essential to talk about them, to keep them present. Try to connect that absence with something positive, with what that person contributed. And, simply, be careful not to stay there, in the bitterness of the loss, but to connect with the present and what we want to do in 2021, in the future, “adds Alba Valle. “Obviously, it is not about making it a monothematic or, at the other extreme, becoming a taboo subject. The loss must be normalized. They are not there, the chair is empty, but they are still part of the family. And it’s good for grief. It connects us as members of the same family ”, concludes Valle.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.