Navigating the Holidays after the Loss of a Loved One - Thanksgiving

Navigating the Holidays after the Loss of a Loved One - Thanksgiving

The second installment of the Holidays After Loss Series concentrates on Thanksgiving. For many, Thanksgiving after loss is the hardest holiday of the season. With a focus on family and togetherness, this holiday magnifies the absence of a deceased loved one and grief can make it difficult to be thankful. While others share their “30 Days of Thankful” social media posts and pictures of their families celebrating, grievers have only their past Thanksgivings and memories to comfort them.

Thanksgiving has never really been my favorite holiday. I don’t care for turkey (ham is my jam) and while I have always spent the day with family, it never really felt like a big deal to me. Even now after Liam’s death, we don’t really have a set tradition and just seem to go with the flow. The past few years we have gone on vacation with my extended family, but this year we are spending the holiday with just our little family. Here are a few ways to help ease your pain this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving After Loss Survival Guide

  • Make the Thanksgiving meal. Perhaps the matriarch of your family has passed away and she was the holiday cook. This is a great time to carry on her legacy using her special recipes and wearing her apron. Maybe your loved one just enjoyed eating the feast and watching football. You can make their favorite foods and cheer on their favorite team. The first Thanksgiving after Liam died, I went all out. As I mentioned above, Thanksgiving was never really my thing, but I needed a distraction and something completely different than anything we had done before. I made a huge turkey, homemade stuffing, and about 10 different desserts from scratch. All of the planning and cooking kept my mind busy and made the holiday a little more bearable for me. Sweet potatoes were one of Liam’s favorite foods, so I made sure to include them in our meal. 

  • Leave an empty chair to keep space at your table for your loved one, or place their picture at your table. Have everyone share how they are thankful for your loved one or a special memory of them.

  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or nursing home. Performing an act of service in honor of your lost loved one is a great way to celebrate the holiday. Share stories of your loved one and listen to the stories of others. Helping others can be profoundly healing. “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.”― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

  • Make a memory tablecloth. This is an amazing idea I saw here. Transform a plain tablecloth into a beautiful holiday piece by having family and friends write down a special memory of your loved one with a fabric marker or sharpie. This can then be passed down to future generations to add to later. 

  • Take a break when things get too overwhelming. The go-go-go of the holidays can be especially draining when coupled with the exhaustion of grief. It’s ok to leave early, or even pass on a party if it is too much. Those who really love you will understand.


    Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to reflect on all the blessings we have, but when someone you love dearly is missing, it can be hard to feel anything but misery. These few ways to include your loved one will hopefully bring a small amount of comfort during this difficult time.

    How do you include your loved on at Thanksgiving? Be sure to sign up for my mailing list so you don’t miss the next post in the Holidays after Loss series, Christmas.

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