By Wendy Boggs, MS/G, Intern

Thanksgiving often conjures up memories of roasting turkey, family gathered around the TV watching parades and football games, long naps after eating that last second helping, and family outings to take advantage of “Black Friday” deals of the year.  

However, for those who are grieving, the memories may not be as clear, or may bring with them waves of yearning for “what was,” instead of the new “what is.” Maybe you miss your husband who died just a few months ago, and Thanksgiving triggers memories of when he was here last year. On the other hand, maybe your mother died long ago, but the holiday brings with it a wave of grief, as you remember it was her favorite time of year.  

Let’s face it, Thanksgiving can be tough in the best of times (just think of your last burned casserole, family member clashes, or the cable going out right at kickoff), but when you’re grieving, it can feel downright overwhelming and impossible. It’s even tempting to avoid it altogether–maybe by making plans to leave town for a long weekend.

And, you know what? If taking that trip to Bermuda, instead of taking part in the holiday, is what you decide to do this year—that’s perfectly okay! Nothing says you can’t skip town this year (or any other year, for that matter). If that’s what you need and you have the ability to do it, go for it. Maybe it even sparks a new tradition of holiday travel for you.  

For others, it may not be possible to leave town, or family obligations may feel unescapable. I am writing today to those folks. To those who, while others are feeling thankful, are missing their loved one and feeling anything but grateful.  

Though the holiday may bring pain, in that it can bring home the reality of your loved one’s death, it also brings with it opportunity.  Opportunity to honor them and express your gratitude for their having been a part of your life, for however long you had them.  

As Queen Elizabeth, II, said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”  

Let me ask a question, how many of us would be willing to forego relationships in order to avoid the pain of grief? Though grief is downright awful, I’d venture to guess most of us would not exchange relationships with our loved ones in order to avoid it. I say this hoping it helps shift our perspective of grief, even if just a bit. Such a shift may help open the door to accepting and acknowledging grief, like the family and friends gathered around us, is also present. Since it’s here, we may as well think about ways to acknowledge it, and give it a place at the table.

There are many creative ways to remember a loved one during Thanksgiving, a few of which I will list, with the hope one (or more) resonates with you. If none strike your fancy, that’s okay!  Maybe you have an idea of your own, or maybe this just isn’t your thing. Just as we all grieve differently, we all remember differently, too.  

Thanksgiving Remembrance Activities:

  • Light a candle (real or battery operated) next to a picture of your loved one, allowing it to burn during the Thanksgiving celebration(s).
  • Set a seat at the dinner table and leave it empty in honor of your loved one’s memory.
  • Ask everyone to bake/bring one of your loved one’s favorite dishes or desserts.
  • Toast your loved one over hot chocolate (or any beverage) and ask those who wish to share favorite memories to do so.
  • Ask those who are present to write down their favorite memories of your loved one, which they place into a memory box, opening it at a designated time, with someone reading each memory aloud.
  • Create a memory tablecloth, asking guests to use markers to document upon it their holiday memories, especially those having to do with loved ones who have died.
  • Donate to a charity in your loved one’s memory.
  • Incorporate a moment of silence before, during, or after your Thanksgiving meal, asking folks to pause to remember and give thanks for the love of those not present due to death, or other reasons.
  • Tell stories about your loved one and how they celebrated the holiday when alive.
  • Pull out the old photographs and reminisce with family and friends.
  • Journal, externalizing your thoughts and feelings by putting pen to paper, which may help release the pressure of bottling them up inside.
  • Give yourself permission to say your loved one’s name and bring up stories about them, or discuss how much you miss them.  Allow yourself to feel the support and love of your family and friends.
  • Start a new tradition.  Instead of staying home, maybe travel for the holiday, or instead of cooking a huge Thanksgiving dinner, begin a tradition of dining at your (or your loved one’s) favorite restaurant.  
  • Watch a movie your loved one enjoyed, complete with popcorn and a toast to their memory with their preferred beverage.
  • Take a family outing to a place your loved one found special, using the time to reflect upon their memory either alone, or as a family.
  • Invite your family and friends to take part in a special volunteer activity in memory of your loved one.  For instance, maybe volunteer with an organization providing meals to individuals who are unhoused during the Thanksgiving holiday.  

How, or even whether, you incorporate remembrance into your Thanksgiving is a personal choice; there is no right or wrong way to do so. Whatever you decide, my hope is this post has provided a sense of hope and an awareness that you are not alone.