Last night, I had a birthday dinner with my uncle. He’s 70! My great aunt was also there. There’s a handful of restaurants we’d always go to: me, my mom, my uncle, and my great aunt. When my mom was still in the hospital, but I knew she was dying, I was sitting in a chair in this very restaurant. It was set for 4, but there was only 3 of us. I thought to myself, this is the way it’s going to be now. We’re going to come here and there’s always going to be an empty chair where my mom should be sitting, but she won’t be…

I tried to stay joyful and present throughout dinner, but I couldn’t help but think back to that day I had that thought and how I was right. It was kinda painful, honestly. To be sitting at a table where your mom used to sit and then there we were, and she’s missing.

You’ll notice that when people you love pass away, that there’s going to still be traditions you carry on in your life where that person is not there. You can create new traditions, which I definitely encourage. But as for the old ones, you have to find some kind of peace in knowing you have a new-old tradition with loved ones. It’s never going to be the same, but you can still enjoy and appreciate the people you ARE with and who ARE still here. They matter, too and deserve your full, present attention.

Here’s some things to try if you’re feeling the absence of your loved one:

• Ask them questions about their life, past and future
• Use it as an opportunity to talk about fun times with your missing loved one (if you are ready to talk about them)
• Get to know them in places that you couldn’t because your loved one would protect you from them or ask you to act different around them
• Give them an opportunity to get to know you more
• Create new and happy memories in the same place (laughing encouraged!)
• Offer ideas of new places to meet that don’t have memories attached so you can create new ones.


Dutch designer Maarten Baas designed this chair with a ladder-back reaching into the sky for human rights charity Amnesty International. The name of the five-metre design, The Empty Chair, refers to Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo who was unable to receive the prize in person last year as he had been imprisoned. Photographs are by Frank Tielemans.