Child Loss,  Sibling Loss

Child Loss: The Empty Place at the Table


Losing a child creates all kinds of emotions that we’ve never felt before.  There is an inner emptiness that can never be described in human terms.  We know what it feels like to miss someone we love………..but to miss a child is so very different from any kind of sorrow known to mankind.  There is a yearning, a longing, a feeling of being so incomplete that our heart feels like it’s going to break in two.  There is an emptiness that reaches clear into our very souls!

For those who don’t know, my name is Clara Hinton, and I’m the author of the book, “Silent Grief” — a book about child loss.  But more than this, I’m a mother who has experienced six miscarriages, one stillbirth, and the death of a 13-year-old sister.  Many painful experiences have touched my life, but nothing compares to the pain of “the empty place at the table.” 

Some people will downplay early losses (miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant losses) saying, “You didn’t have that much time with your child, so how can you say you miss this child so much?”  Others will downplay the loss of older children saying, “Why are you still grieving this loss?  Be thankful for the years you had together with your child.”

You get the picture……….people who have not experienced the loss of a child don’t know what the pain feels like.  They don’t know what it’s like to lose part of your heart — part of your soul.  We can’t fault them for that, nor do we ever wish that kind of pain on anyone so that they could better understand our pain.  But, the truth is there’s no pain that compares to the loss of a child!  And, only parents of child loss know the true meaning of this pain.

I love food.  I love mealtimes.  But it hasn’t always been this way.  When my sister died, I dreaded the thought of mealtime.  Why?  Because that was when everything became real.  Instead of setting places for five at the table, there were now only four.  I can still see our tiny dining room with the small chrome-legged table.  What once was a place of lively conversation about school, church, bike riding and the everyday activities enjoyed by kids was now a place of dread and somber silence.

One of the first meals we tried to eat after the death of Carmella was chicken and dumplings brought to us by a sweet neighbor.  Normally, I would have filled my plate and had seconds! This meal was different, though.  I had no appetite. Just the thought of sitting down at the “table for four” made the emptiness in me multiply times a thousand!  Instead of eating, I ran to the bathroom crying, “I’m sick in my stomach.  I think I’m going to throw up!”

I can well remember my mother saying, “I’m not going to eat tonight.”  And, she sat in the living room crying until her cries turned into loud, wailing sobs and she retreated once again to the privacy of her bedroom where she could feel the loneliness all over again.

My father avoided supper.  My parents were divorced at this time, but he tried really hard to eat a few meals with my living sister and me.  Sadly,  he never lasted longer than standing in the archway between the kitchen and the dining room.

The empty plate was too hard to see. 

My little sister was only six at the time of Carmella’s death.  She didn’t understand the entire meaning of “Your sister died”, but she understood the fact that nobody was ever coming to sit in Carmella’s seat again.

That place was empty.  And, so were our hearts.


It has now been forty nine years since my sister died.  My mother and father have since died.  Only my younger sister is living.  Our immediate family of five is now two.  But, the empty place at the table has never been filled, and it never will!

Odd to some, but perfectly normal to me, I still claim the same seating arrangement at the table as I did when my sister was alive.  She always sat to the left of me.  To this day, I reserve an empty place at the table to my left in memory of Carmella.  There is nobody who will ever take her place at the table or in my heart!

I’d love to hear your stories of how you’re dealing with the empty place at the table.  There is no right or wrong way to work through this part of child loss.  We do whatever feels best for us, and for me it meant reserving that place to my left just for my sister.

My baby losses were different, obviously.  They never physically sat at the table with me except when they were growing inside of my womb.  For them, there is a special place reserved in the inner chambers of my heart where nobody else can enter.  That space and place is for my babies only!  I feel no shame in saying that.  When I sit down at the table, I envision being surrounded by my “angel babies” as they watch over me in their innocence and purity.  Their memory has created a circle of love that has become my hope — hope of one day entering heaven and being met by each one of them!

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the empty place at your table.  I’m a firm believer that as we share, we are encouraged!




  • lenwilliamscarver

    What a beautiful tribute to Carmella! I refuse to have Thanksgiving at my home because that was the last meal and holiday spent with Klysta, and the sadness is to great. At Christmas I leave one chair empty for her to sit in. The rest of the time her photo, Bible and ashes look over me from a shelf above my living room chair.

    • Clara Hinton

      Thank you so much! And, thank you for sharing what you do during holidays following the lost of Klysta. I love the idea of leaving one chair empty for her to sit in during Christmas. So many times people want to do things like this as a tribute to their children, but they’re afraid of what others will think. I love the tribute you have in memory of Klysta. I also love the idea of the photo, Bible, and her ashles looking over you. I appreciate your sharing with us.

  • Katie Rice

    Thanksgiving 2013 was the first meal my family and I sat down to after the passing of my baby sisters only child, 3 1/2 year old Raymond. He was diagnosed at the early age of 2 with, Neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that effects the nerves system and bone marrow. I had made it a point to to make sure I gathered the family at her and hers husbands home that day. She had to work until 7pm. By the time i made it over, my brother-in-law was texting me, asking if I was to arrive soon. He just couldn’t take being alone any more. And when I finally made it, I could tell that he had been crying. He clung tightly to his sons favorite stuffed toy. Raymond never went anywhere without it. His eyes were swollen and red from crying. When my daughter came in (she’s 10) she immediately went to him, and hugged him. I cooked dinner, and while we waited for my sister to get home, each family member held the pillow and cried. Even though he was technically my nephew, I was his momma Katie. We were very close. We shared a special bond threw our illnesses. I have rheumatoid arthritis. But I’ve tried hard to be the strong one for my little sister and her husband. And that’s what I did this Thanksgiving. When she came in, she burst into tears. We all consoled her, but what can you really do or say? You see Raymond was just weeks before, in remission. We were so glad he beat the cancer! But it very suddenly and aggressively came back. As I announced that dinner was ready, my sister came quietly, slowly into the kitchen. She went to the cubbies, and took out Raymond’s favorite plate. She topped it with all of Raymond’s favorite foods. She grabbed his favorite spoon, and placed it in the spot that he’d always sat in. At that moment, everyone was silent. And we all just stared at his empty seat. It was painful. And it made that broken piece of my heart throb again. After a few minutes we all gathered to have our dinner. Although it was hard, and the chair was empty, we left his spot just as it was. We will always remember him, love him, and miss him so much. But he’s in our hearts. I always like to say “to know him , was to love him.” He was our little Ray of Sonshine. He loved everybody that needed loving. And he was an inspiration to many.

    • Clara Hinton

      Katie, Thank you so much for sharing this moving story of how you and your familiy got through Thanksgiving following the passing of your sister’s son, Raymond. I’m so very glad to hear that a plate was fixed for him with his favorite foods and placed at the table — very symbolic of him being there with you. He sounds like such a special little boy! I’m so very sorry for the loss of your little “Ray of Sonshine.”

      Again, thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story.

  • Dawn Bolton , Andrew's mom

    Thank you for being so eloquent in your writing. It is truly amazing how you put into words my feelings and pain. My son’s three year anniversary of his passing is coming up Feburary 16th and I am hoping it is not as hard as last year. I think the second year may have been the hardest because the numbing coma that my brain was in the first year had worn off. Feburary 2013, the disbelief had gone for the most part and reality was sitting in. Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts, you have a gift of describing the indescribable.

    • Clara Hinton

      Dawn, I think you’re so right — the second year is almost always harder than the first year because by then you have pulled out of the shelter of the numbing, blinding fog.

      I hope and pray that as February 16th arrives you will be in a much different place in your grief than last year. I hope this year you will be more able to think about the life of your son and some wonderful moments you had together. Yes, it will be terrible painful, but the memories will also serve as a healing balm to your soul.

      Thank you for your kind comments.

  • Karen

    Thank you for your posts. I formed a group in northern Colorado call M.O.M.S. (Mother’s Own Mourning Society). Every mother mourns differently, but the same due to the circumstances of their child’s death. But when you post, I share your post every morning on Facebook as I believe it helps others who walk in our shoes. I am so very sorry for all your losses and wish you nothing but good in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. God bless you! Karen Drogsvold-Kleiner.

    • Clara Hinton

      Karen, What a wonderful act of love to have formed the group M.O.M.S.! I’m sure your group is helping so many! And, thank you so much for sharing my FB thoughts with others. Every day before I make a post I say a prayer that the words I post will help someone.

      I appreciate you thinking of me. Child loss is a long and difficult journey. Your words mean a lot to me. Again, thank you.

  • Maria Dow

    Hello Clara
    I often share your post on my facebook. There are feelings and explanations you write about that are so good for people to understand, people that have never gone through what we have and are going through. i’m of Portuguese decent living in New Zealand, so english is my second language and at times i’m not very good at explaining myself. you speak of memories enabling us to heal, but at this stage of my grief, every time i think of my 23 year old son, Niki, who died on 31 August 2013, (in my home country of Portugal) i get so so sad, i miss him terribly. He was/is my joy. although it has been 5 months since he left us, as a result of someone else’s negligence, i battle so much coming to terms with this event. i talk a lot about him and have to remind myself that he is living with and serving our Heavenly Father. He would often tell me that he was no afraid to die as he knew where he was going! I’m so comforted by this but still i grieve for him. not one hour goes by i don’t say his name in my mind.
    i treasure your posts and look forward to reading them often, you always know what to say and how to say things. Thank you. God bless you. Maria

    • Clara Hinton

      Hi, Maria! I’m so very sorry for the loss of your son Niki. Five months is such a brief amount of time — far too soon for memories of your son to be soothing and healing to you. It often takes years to get to that point in our grief. While it is definitely a comfort to know our children are with our Lord, it still doesn’t diminish the fact that we miss our child more than words can explain. It takes a long, long time to come to that point in this journey we call child loss.

      Every day when I make a post on FB, I say a prayer before posting. I always ask God to allow the words posted to be a comfort to those who are suffering through the loss of a their child. Thank you so much for letting me know that you have received some validation and comfort.

      My thoughts and prayers are with you, Maria. Again, I’m so very sorry for the loss of your son.

  • Wanda

    To honor our son Daniel we had a place set at the restaurants we ate at. I put his work hat on the plate with his sunglasses and can of chew. We couldn’t be at home as the holidays were his favorite time.

    • Clara Hinton

      Wanda, What a beautiful thing to do — placing Daniel’s hat and favorite things on his place. What a great way to honor your son! Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Shirley Holloway

    Hi I find your comments on fb so very true and they touch my heart, all that you say is what I have gone through thought and felt, my beloved son passed away on 10th September 2008 he was 27, after a painful battle with bone cancer, he endured so much pain and suffering and was so very brave and positive all the way through.I love and miss him with every beat of my heart, although its been over 5 years it is still so very painful, I put on a brave front but inside I am broken. Thank you again xx

    • Clara Hinton

      Shirley, I’m so sorry for the pain your son went through and even more sorry for his death. Life can be so cruel sometimes, and this is one of those times. In the scope of things, five years is such a short period of time. It takes a lifetime for the brokenness in our hearts to begin to heal, and even then complete healing doesn’t happen. We will always miss our child with our entire being! Thank you for your comment.