NEW data from Sue Ryder, the national bereavement charity has revealed that mealtimes are particularly difficult for those who are grieving as they reinforce feelings of loss and loneliness.
In response, the charity has launched The Empty Chair, a campaign encouraging family and friends to offer those who are grieving a seat at their table, by inviting them around for a meal, so that no one has to go through grief alone.
As part of its new consumer research, Sue Ryder has found that three-quarters (72%) of people who have experienced a bereavement skip meals because they don’t like eating alone, with over half (53%) skipping meals as frequently as once per week.
Sue Ryder has launched the campaign as part of its wider Grief Kind movement – which looks to equip people with the knowledge and tools to be able to meet grief with warmth and acceptance rather than shying away from open conversations.
To mark the start of the campaign, this week, Sue Ryder is installing a 13-seater dining table set for dinner without guests at Victoria Leeds. Each seat will represent someone who has died.
Instead of menus at each place around the table, cards will show a photograph and a quote from a family member about the person who died. Special items will dress the table that represent fond memories, characteristics or hobbies of the person, including lemon curd, a football scarf, a Meatloaf album and a set of scrubs.
Actor Lisa Riley, Influencer Lottie Tomlinson, and TV Personality Gail Porter are supporting Sue Ryder’s campaign by remembering their mothers.
Lisa Riley, Sue Ryder Ambassador, said:
“I always say that mum was the oxygen in the room. Mum made me look timid and that’s not an exaggeration. Mum loved the colour yellow and whenever I see it, I think of her and feel her with me.
“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.”
Lottie Tomlinson, Sue Ryder Ambassador, said:
“My beautiful mum was a proud mother to her seven children and worked as a midwife for 14 years. She was passionate about helping and caring for people. She loved life and raising her children and helping others bring theirs into the world. She showed so much strength and bravery right until the end.
“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.”
Gail Porter, Sue Ryder supporter, said:
“My mum Sandra was a real character; she loved company and always had lots of friends and was a really sociable and funny person.
“Grief never leaves you, ever. But it’s important to be kind to yourself. The person you are grieving for would not want you to be in a situation where you are not able to enjoy your own life.”
Mealtimes are moments when households, friends, and families come together – however, Sue Ryder’s research has shown that for half (50%) of people who have experienced a close bereavement, find that this time of day reinforces feelings of loss and loneliness.
As well as the emotional impact of losing someone, the research reveals the stark reality of how daily life changes. 45% of people agree that ‘cooking for one isn’t worth it’, and over two-fifths (41%) find they eat less healthy meals since their loved one passed away.
The charity is calling for friends or family to be Grief Kind, making mealtimes easier for those grieving, with 59% of people saying they would find it helpful if people invited them over for dinner.
Bianca Neumann, Head of Bereavement at Sue Ryder, said:
“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.
“Sue Ryder is encouraging the nation to be Grief Kind and to meet grief with warmth and acceptance instead of shying away from conversations. To find out more about our campaign, search Sue Ryder Grief Kind.”
Sue Ryder is encouraging the nation to be Grief Kind by adding a seat to your table, so no one has to go through grief alone. For more information, please visit: sueryder.org/griefkind.