Thanksgiving Was Her Holiday: Traditions after the loss of a mother

Thanksgiving was really the Super Bowl of holidays for my mom, and we would usually celebrate with a house full of people, way too much food, and lots of laughter. Mom made sure we made everyone’s favorite dishes, had plenty of coffee and pie, and invited anyone who needed a place to call home for the holidays.  She was the glue that held our family together, and we admittedly struggled to keep close after she died in 2007. The first Thanksgiving after she left, we all descended on my father’s house, made lots of food, laughed a little too much and a little too loudly, trying to pretend everything was still going to be the same. It wasn’t, and we all knew it.

For a number of reasons, we didn’t have the big Thanksgiving feast at my Dad’s house the next year, which left me with yet another feeling of loss. So, that second year without Mom, my husband and I went to a friend’s house to eat with them and their young daughters. It was nice of them to welcome us into their home, but it didn’t feel “right” to me. We were invited to a number of people’s homes the following year, but I just couldn’t get into the idea of having someone else’s holiday again. So, last year, we had Thanksgiving at our house.

We had friends over, and made way too much food, and laughed real laughter and shared a sense of togetherness that can only come when it isn’t being forced. I made the spinach stuffed mushrooms that my mom taught me to make, and wore her teeny little diamond ear rings proudly in my ears. It all felt as good as a Thanksgiving without Mom could feel, and helped me to realize that I am in charge of my own traditions now. I can create new ones while still honoring the memory of my mom. I don’t have to feel obligated to participate in other people’s family traditions, or go to certain gatherings because other people think that I should.  It was a powerful and freeing lesson to learn.

A close friend of mine lost her brother suddenly, just two months after Mom died.  She spent the year following her brother’s death trying to fit into other people’s expectations of how she should be grieving, and how she should be “moving on.”  That third year, she made the brave choice to say “no” to a family gathering that would not have been the best fit for her, and she joined us for Thanksgiving instead. I think only people who are grieving (or going through a crisis) can understand the delicate balance of trying to make others happy and keep your own sanity at the same time.  It is a difficult thing, and makes the strongest people I know question themselves.

This year, we will once again gather at my father’s home for the traditional family Thanksgiving, in our own un-traditional way.  We will be celebrating on the first weekend of December, since that’s when my brother and his wife can make the trip from Nashville.  And the warm and welcoming house I grew up in now includes the added love of Shirley, a long time family friend who is now my father’s wife.  As usual, we will be joined by Emily, my best friend from childhood, and her family. Emily’s mom and my mom were friends before either of them had children, and they remained close until my mom’s death.  Having them around for holidays and special occasions makes me feel the warmth and wonder of my childhood every time.

We will no longer have the company of Aunt Jean, Uncle Eddie, my cousin Jeff, or Bubbie, who had been my last surviving grandparent.  I am struck by how many members of our family have died, and also by how close those of us who are left have become.

Life after loss hasn’t looked “the same” for me, my family, or my friends, but it has been good and it has been honest.  We have all made some choices, changes, and compromises along the way as we have slowly figured out what feels right for each of us now.  We have found our own unique ways to celebrate the things that are important to us, and to honor the memories of the ones who will always be in our hearts.

Through all of the sadness, strained relationships, and awkward moments, we have come to this new place, closer than ever.  And for that, I am thankful.

Photo Credit.


  1. joyce said on November 10, 2010 at 10:39 pm ... #

    Love you so much…I just got put on unpaid leave for being distraced..also in my eval the day before…may lose a job that I love,,miss you.I think that the loss of Megan gave boss the excuse she needed to do this…..i have lost so much and am trying so hard..maybe not hard enough!!!!!!!

  2. Tammy said on November 11, 2010 at 12:02 pm ... #

    Joyce, What horrible person your boss must be! To use your grief as a weapon against you. GOD BLESS YOU

  3. Iris Arenson-Fuller said on November 11, 2010 at 1:19 pm ... #

    The holidays bring so many memories but they are also an opportunity to take a few moments to remember in special ways all of those who are missing. I am the sole survivor now of my immediate family. I am working on compiling a book of holiday stories about our family. Hard to believe I am now “the bubbie”.

    May you have a Happy Thanksgiving and may the sweet memories overtake the sharp and sad ones.

  4. Carmen said on November 11, 2010 at 2:05 pm ... #

    I lost my mother in July 2010. Actually, I lost her years ago with Depression, Parkinsons, Carbon Monoxide Accident and then Ovarian Cancer. I have looked on others over the years and see how much fun and happiness is in their families. I appreciate the comment that said, she realizes she needs to create her own traditions. I am at the age that I have lost all those close to me. Somehow, I need to figure out how to create that happy tradition. To all those that have family left be thankful…and value each moment….!!

  5. Bill said on November 19, 2010 at 1:16 pm ... #

    We pause, hold hands around the table and in a moment of silence remember those no longer present and the gifts they gave us –like the gift of life from mom and dad, like the joy of our “flower girl” friend who died of cancer, etc. — My wife stated it the year after her mom died.

    Carmen, I have an acquaintance who now every year serves dinner at the homeless shelter and another person I heard about invites college students who can afford to fly across country twice (TD & Xmas)and has them over. You will find a way. It takes time. I’ll remember you in our moment of silence.

  6. Kati said on November 27, 2010 at 6:58 pm ... #

    Hey everyone! .! Happy Thanksgiving!. !! 🙂
    Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and every yr I like to get into the mood-extend the holiday, as it were-by reading “Thanksgiving novels.” For example, most of these stories are mostly about family, about coming together to heal old hurts and giving thanks for the gift of love. . .. ”
    Have You Been Far better Off These days Than You Had been 5 Yrs Ago?

  7. Lisa said on November 21, 2011 at 2:19 am ... #

    I am right there with all of you. My mother, my best friend went to be with the Lord – will be 2 years this coming February 10th, after a long battle with cancer. She was that glue that held the family together, and God, holidays and family were so very important to her. I am the youngest of three and it seems it is affecting me most. We all had our own relationship with Mom and are handling it differently. I rest in the fact I know she is with the Lord and in no more pain, and taht I WILL see her again someday. But so hard not to have her here any longer. There are days at the age of 46 I feel like a little girl inside – when that feeling of missing her hits me.

    I know life goes on – so they say. But finding a way especially during the holidays to find those new traditions is so difficult. Of course it will never be the same as life is forever changed. Thankful I can rest in the fact as I said – I will see her again someday and she is n the hands of the Lord no longer in pain or on all that medication she was on. I miss her so, and my Dad has changed also and that is difficult to deal with also. Prayers and blessings to all of you that have lost someone close to you. May God give you strength to find a way to put one foot in front of the other and move forward one day at a time. Lisa

  8. Sandra said on October 2, 2012 at 11:58 am ... #

    I understand you so much Lisa. I lost my mom, my best friend, my everything February 2012. I have been lost seems ever since. She was the glue that held our family together as well. I am 49 and still feel like a little girl without my mom. It is the hardest thing I have ever dealt with. Thanksgiving is around the corner and it was mine and her favorite holiday. Her birthday is the week after. To think about it now, brings tears rolling down my face. Will the pain ever go away. I want so bad her arms to wrap around me and her sweet voice tell me, “Everything will be ok honey” but I know I will never hear those precious words again.

  9. Trevor said on November 14, 2012 at 8:12 am ... #

    This goes out to anyone who’s grieving and thinking of their loved one’s.
    God’s Word, the Bible, provides the greatest comfort of all. The Christian apostle Paul stated: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15)
    Thinking about the Bible-based hope of a resurrection can be the greatest comfort while grieving the loss of a loved one………..

  10. Brenda said on November 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm ... #

    Here we are less than a week a way from thanksgiving, tears and sadness all around at my house. Because like you Thanksgiving was My Moms holiday too. She passed away January 2012 and I miss her so much. But I want to thank everyone for sharing their loss too. This has helped me not to feel so alone as I am the only child, no siblings to share this time with. I have found some comfort in knowing that she is in heaven and I know her spirit is around me. I just hope that I am able to honor her this holiday season, by putting away my tears, because I know that is what she would want.

  11. Janet said on November 19, 2012 at 3:22 pm ... #

    It’s been 16 years without my mother and 3 years without my dad. I’ve moved forward because that’s what they both would have wanted – but, I just don’t feel the same “song” in my “heart”.
    I’ve helped to create wonderful, traditional holidays for my sons – they deserve that!!! I concentrate on the fact that it’s their time, now. I had the best and I want them to have the best now.
    Loss is such a personal thing – it hits people at odd times and in odd places. But just remember – the depth of your sorrow is a testimony to the depth of your love for that person.
    Live so that you have no regrets – but just live!
    Happy Thanksgiving…. to all!

  12. Cyndi said on November 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm ... #

    It seems that I lost just about everything in 2012. First my job on May 24th, then Mom very suddenly without warning on June 2, 2012. Only child, no siblings. I putter through the days doing the things that need to be done, but my heart is just broken. I’m having Thanksgiving at home and am trying to do things out of sync so that they are not so painful, but the reality is I feel myself retreating into solitude and quietness, I miss her so much, mere words could never express. It will never be the same without her no matter how hard I try….. Happy Turkey day everyone and thanks for reading….

  13. Stacy said on August 2, 2013 at 6:18 am ... #

    I have recently lost both my parents within 10 weeks. Although I am the youngest of 4 at age 50 I still find the need to help all the families get through the holidays together. I am helped by the comments from others for I know I am not alone. When I lost my parents I thought “I am no longer the child and have to be a grown up” Growing up is hard. I am thankful for my parents, family and for those who left comments for I know I am ok.

  14. Becky said on November 24, 2013 at 6:28 pm ... #

    Stacy, I know this post is older, but I too lost both of my parents 5 days apart in 2006. I was 52 at the time. I know how very painful this is for you and I still have a tough time at the holidays that they were such a huge part of. It does get easier to cope,but for me took 2,3 years. I am very thankful that, like you, I had 4 siblings to lean on. I cant imagine what its like to have that kind of loss being an only child. I am trying to think of ways to honor them and the others we have lost since.
    Im still thankful I had them all in my life.

  15. lisa said on November 27, 2013 at 11:48 pm ... #

    Here I sit on the eve of my first holiday without my mom, expecting to be either an emotional wreck (my own influence) or to serve alot of good food (mom’s influence). Not sure which will win.
    Like many here, in my mid-40’s, I am faced with the reality that my mom will never call me again, never set the Thanksgiving table again, never argue about mashing the potatoes,tell me about a new recipe, or ask me which outfit she should wear. It’s done. That part of my life is over. Accepting that will be a long process, but we will manage.Knowing I’ll see her again, and that she is resting in God’s care, is integral in my healing & grieving. So glad I am confident of that. My dad is already different, and will have to adjust in his own way, to her loss and his aging alone. Thankfully we are a short drive from each other, and he does email. I pray that over the coming months we will make efforts to be closer, to know each other better, to live so that we have no regrets. And to enjoy the beauty and meaning of our holidays as fully as ever.

    So, tomorrow…we aren’t attempting to recreate her holiday…dad is coming to our house and he’ll probably prefer not to talk about her much. But I will try to find a way to handle it that honors them both, and leaves my children with a new tradition to carry on. I may set a place for her at the table, if it’s not too painful, but we will at least borrow the idea of creating a moment to remember her as we give thanks.

    It is true that those who mourn will be comforted. Your stories are proof, as they have comforted me. Thank you. May God’s peace be with us, and His love strengthen us, as we make our own traditions without our moms to lend a hand. We can do this.You, who are reading because you’ve lost your mom too, you can do this. It will be alright.

  16. Marg said on November 29, 2014 at 10:13 pm ... #

    Lost my mother two weeks ago, buried her one week ago and the family is having Thanksgiving today. I don’t feel comfortable with it; it just seems too soon to be having “normal” holidays with her gone.

Leave a Comment

Your email is never shared.


By submitting a comment, you are agreeing to our Terms & Conditions.