The Empty Chair: encouraging the nation to be more Grief Kind

15 Nov 2022

To highlight our new research, which has revealed that mealtimes are particularly difficult for people who are grieving, we’ve installed a dining table surrounded by 13 empty chairs at Victoria Leeds shopping centre. Each seat at the table represents a person who has died, and acts as a call to the public to support their grieving family and friends so that no one has to go through grief alone.

What is ‘The Empty Chair’ campaign about?

Mealtimes are moments when households, friends and families come together. However, our new research has shown that 50% of people who have experienced a close bereavement find that this time of day reinforces feelings of loss and loneliness.

Our research went on to reveal that 72% of people who are grieving skip meals because they don’t like eating alone, with 53% skipping meals as frequently as once per week

As well as having to deal with the emotional impact of losing someone, our research also revealed the stark reality of how daily life can change after a bereavement. 45% of people agreed that cooking for one didn’t seem worth it, and 41% found that they ate less healthy meals since following the death of someone close to them

While all of this research points to the challenging nature of mealtimes during grief, we also found that 59% of the people we surveyed said they would find it helpful if people invited them over for dinner. That’s why we’re calling on the friends and family of those who are grieving to be more Grief Kind and make mealtimes easier, by offering up a seat at their own table. 

Bianca Neumann, our Head of Bereavement, says: 

“During your journey through grief, you may find it hard to do everyday tasks like eating meals. The idea of cooking or preparing a meal and then sitting at a dining table can be overwhelming and magnify the absence of the person who died. 

“If you are supporting someone through grief, why not offer them a seat at your dinner table. It may be that the person declines your offer or cancels at the last minute, but it’s important to be understanding and patient. Grief affects people in different ways and they may wake up feeling excited to see you, but by the afternoon feel unable to attend.

“My advice would be to continue to offer a place at your dinner table and to be led by the grieving person. Over the meal you can ask questions like ‘would you like to talk about how you are doing?’. If they say yes, then start conversations with open questions such as ‘what was your favourite meal together?’ or ‘do you have a special memory that you’d like to share?’. Some people may like to raise a toast to the person who died, but not talk about them any further and make space for normal conversations that you may have, and that’s okay too.

“Research shows that events like coming together to share a meal increase the levels of oxytocin, which creates a sense of belonging and safety, making them feel less alone. This can be particularly helpful if you are feeling isolated in your grief.

Our ambassadors Lisa Riley and Lottie Tomlinson are both remembering their loved ones as part of this campaign: 

“Mum’s empty chair is felt by everyone who knew her, not just me. She is always missed at special occasions and celebrations, because she was the life and soul of every party.” - Lisa Riley remembering her mum Cath

“Family meals are always hard because it reminds you that that special someone isn’t there. Seeing an empty chair around the table really hits home that they’re not there. In my family we find raising a glass to that person has helped us, to celebrate and remember them.” - Lottie Tomlinson remembering her mum Johannah

More ways to be Grief Kind

If you’re looking for more ways to be there for someone you love during their grief journey, you might want to try: 

You may also want to talk to them about our Online Bereavement Community. It’s a place where users come together to anonymously share their experiences, talk about how they’re feeling and find others who understand what they’re going through. It’s free to use, available to anyone over 18 and available day or night.

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