Hope for the Thanksgiving Holiday

Originally published November 2010.

The holidays can be an especially difficult time of year for those who are grieving. When everyone around you seems happy and full of holiday cheer, you may want to just skip the holidays all together. The sights, sounds and smells of the holiday season can be overwhelming and the period of time leading up to the holidays can actually be worse than the day itself.

Before Thanksgiving Day, think about what might be tough and plan ahead, for example the “empty chair,” should you keep it in place or remove it from the table all together? Should the oldest child or another family member sit there now? Should you set a place in honor of your loved one? There’s no right or wrong answer, do what’s best for you and your family.

Be realistic… Don’t over schedule, you know yourself better than anyone. Set realistic goals and always have more than one plan. By having multiple plans – plan A, B and C – you can quickly move to the next plan if the previous one isn’t working or becomes too difficult.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to do things the way you’ve always done them. It may be a good time to start some new traditions, this doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the old traditions; you can always go back to them or incorporate them again when you’re ready. Just because you’ve always put on a huge feast doesn’t mean you have to this year, have everyone bring a dish, have another family member host Thanksgiving dinner, or go out to a restaurant this year.

Address the “elephant in the room,” by acknowledging your loved one and including him or her in your gathering by lighting a candle, making a toast in his or her honor, or sharing favorite memories and funny stories about them. It may be difficult to start these conversations but it will benefit everyone around you and help each of you heal a little bit at a time.

A wonderful new tradition is to cover the table with a plain table cloth, provide permanent markers for family members and guests to write what they’re “thankful” for on the table cloth, a favorite memory or message to your loved one, and  children can have fun by drawing pictures. Bring the tablecloth out at each holiday until it’s full and then start a new one!

Remember to give “thanks” for what you had and what you still have… memories, love and feelings in our hearts can never be taken from us unless we let them. This year give thanks that the grief you feel is based on the enormous love you’ve shared!

Photo Credit.


  1. Becki said on November 17, 2010 at 11:57 am ... #

    Thank you for sharing these ideas, they are really good…

  2. Gail said on November 17, 2010 at 12:37 pm ... #

    I passed this on. Hope it helps someone!

  3. Sandi Elzinga said on November 21, 2010 at 7:09 pm ... #

    Wonderful post! Great ideas!

    Check out my blogpost on the difficulties during the holidays, on GriefWalk:Hope Through The Dark Places.

    A Blessing In Grief.

  4. Gina said on November 23, 2010 at 10:31 pm ... #

    I likes the last sentence:” This year ‘I give thanks that the grief I feel is based on the ENORmous love we’ve shared!”That felt good to read…Thank u.

  5. sallyb said on November 24, 2010 at 6:44 am ... #

    Thank you for the thoughts here, and ways to have hope at Thanksgiving.
    I am feeling the tug of grief and sadness while also looking forward to having family close together at my table.
    Thanksgiving was the last holiday celebrated with my Mom in ’08; while my brother was with us for Thanksgiving and at Christmas last year, I know now that he was making plans to end his life.
    I think about his trips to be with us, knowing that it would be the last holidays together, and I love him for being with us then.

  6. Shirley Byrd said on November 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm ... #

    Thank you for the words of encouragement and the ideas. It is very hard and overwhelming to “celebrate” Thanksgiving when you do not feel thankful. I lost my oldest son a year ago and I’m afraid the holidays will never be the same again. I have 3 other boys that I want to continue helping them have good memories of the holidays but it is very difficult. I will try one of your suggestions and see how it goes. Thank you.

  7. Delene Jobes said on November 25, 2010 at 11:29 am ... #

    I do not if I can get pass the pain. My daughter was here one day and gone the next. It has only been two months and then here comes Thanksgiving and her birthday. I had a mother who told me oh well she dead and get on with life, and I need to think of my niece is having hard pregnancy. I could not believe a mother and my daughter’s grandmother could be so cold. I will never talking to her again. I am thankful for my sisters and their husbands. I have even reconnected with my cousins this helps but I still prefer to be alone this Thanksgiving. I do a lot of crying when I am not working because the mind had nothing to keep it busy. I know my daughter is with her grandpa and great grandparents, but still I wish was here with her little boy.

  8. Lisa Goeller said on November 30, 2010 at 8:55 am ... #

    This story hits my feelings right on the mark. I especially loved the last sentence too.‘I give thanks that the grief I feel is based on the ENORmous love we’ve shared! Thank you for sharing.
    I miss my grandson everyday. This time of year is especially difficult. He would be 5. He died is his sleep Jan 18, 2009. I watch the x-mas video from a few weeks before. He was so excited. I really miss him. My Gaeb…
    My daughter had a baby girl in June.Zoey Abigael. Beautiful baby… She brings smiles and joy into my life again. Sometimes I feel afraid to love her with my whole heart and soul. But I do!! Thank all of you for letting me share…Take Care
    Lisa Goeller (Gaeb’s Gran 10.14.05 to 1.18.09)
    luv you more Gaeb!!

  9. Cindy said on November 27, 2013 at 4:22 am ... #

    I lost my daughter Holly 1/27/12 to a drunk driver and ten months before that my sister was shot and killed by her husband. She had just retired. She had worked as a nurse her whole life. The Murder Trial is finally starting on 1/10. He is up on 7 felony counts including shooting her dog. He is going away Thanks to God.
    My daughter’s drunk got 6 years and he got 6 years. Doesn’t seem right I know. If I can walk thru this I’m sure we all can. We all have a steep road we are going down. Someone please put on the brakes.

  10. Barbara said on November 27, 2013 at 9:36 pm ... #

    This is the time of year my husband became ill so fast after a long battle with Hep C. He loved the holidays so much and made them so memorable for his 3 girls and myself. Our memories of his last holiday with us is so bittersweet, he gave us love, fun, joy and taught us the joy of being a child at x-mas. Although it’s so hard to be without him, we choose to honor him with continuing all our traditions, it gives us a feeling of his presence. I feel for all you grieving, the pain can be so palpable. I wish you peace, comfort and remember you are not alone in your feelings.

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