Empty space at the table, empty space by the tree. Empty space in the photo, empty space inside me. Empty space on the mantle, empty space on the hearth, empty space in my stomach, in my soul, in my heart. Empty space in spaces from head to toe, I am sorry you know these spaces I know. But within this dark space, there is space for light, there is space for grace, there is space for might. There is space to grieve, there is space to love, there is space for hope from below to above. There is space in your heart to continue to grow, and within these spaces you are healing your soul.
These dark, empty spaces are haunting, yet beautiful, as it is here that we are most open to finding the light within the darkness, our passions within the pain. This empty space represents your endless pain, your broken heart, your deepest despair, and biggest rage. Yet paradoxically, this vast space also symbolizes your love, your hope, your child. Nothing and no one will ever completely fill this vast void. No well-intended advice will cure your pain. No creative grief activity will permanently take away the rage, but there are ways to soothe your forever healing heart and honor your child even around the most painful anniversaries or times of celebration and gathering. There are ways to make meaning within the moments without.
The Empty Space in your Stomach When planning to attend a gathering, plan for sadness. Consider grief to be on the menu for the day. What can you do? 1. Eat a small portion, or stuff yourself. It’s your choice. 2. Keep in mind that it is best to eat in moderation as it takes longer to recover when you stuff yourself. 3. Feed your doubts nourishing affirmations to combat feeling emotionally malnourished within the empty space in your gut.
The Empty Space at the Table There it is. The empty chair. The space where you imagine he would sit. Her plate would be there, her napkin in her lap. Family and friends surround you yet somehow you feel disconnected, your mind deep in thought about you-know-who. You wonder if any of them are thinking about the empty space that fills your heart and that chair over there. You can’t breathe. What can you do? 1. Sneak away to breathe. Go outside or get away from the crowd. Breathe. 2. Unite with your bereaved bestie through personal message, post to one of your online groups, or send a close friend a “I’m feeling griefish and am losing my grace!” text. 3. For some dark humor, watch this clip from the Return to Zero Thanksgiving scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFim4AcaAaU (All grace breaks lose at the 2:57 mark.)
The Empty Space in the Photo It’s group photo time. The family pods converge. You gather near your closest and smile. Everyone looks at the photo. You walk away with a sting in your heart because your eyes drift to the empty space that your child would fill. What can you do? 1. Refurbish a sentimental item into something new. When your hands feel as empty as that space in a family photo, hold on to a special teddy bear or pillow that has been created from treasured outfits or blankets. 2. Hold a framed photo 3. Digitally insert a shadow or light orb into the empty space.
The Empty Space in your heart Your gathering has been full of smiles, some of them real. You hug everyone, but the empty space within your heart aches, and follows you home from the party. What can you do? 1. Focus on others when you can’t see past the fog of your own grief. Get out of your own head and heart by volunteering for a local organization, serving food, gathering items, fundraising. 2. Perform intentional acts of kindness in honor of your child. 3. Create a space for renewal and healing.
About that rage… You decide to face your grief head and heart on, and the anger boils to rage. Your heart is so hurt that you could just break something, and you need to get out some grief induced anger in a productive, creative way. What can you do? 1. Break something. Smash a plate then create a mosaic. 2. Burn something. Make a burn bowl, write down your deepest despairs, and burn them. 3. Smash something. Buy a watermelon and smash it. Beat it with a hammer. Stomp on that watermelon.
There is solace to be found while sitting in the darkness, but remember to turn on the light when you want to see. When your empty spaces feel heavy find ways to keep your heart light.
Ginny Limer is a mother of five, teacher, and adventurer from Fort Worth, Texas. She founded Scared Sidless, a 501(c)3 nonprofit in order to support bereaved families, unite grieving siblings, and promote a lifestyle of creative, healthy grieving. Just as you exhale grief, Ginny encourages you to inhale hope.