Talking Turkey: Loss and Grief at Thanksgiving

A woman and her dog found my secret beach on the river, struck up a conversation and told me her father had died in July.  She dreaded Thanksgiving.  It became a heart to heart talk about her grief and loss.  When I finally told her I was a grief coach, she hugged me fiercely saying, “You helped me so much, I needed to meet you today!”  Love those divine appointments!

For me, Thanksgiving dinners in the past, meant all 13 of the extended family happily bumping elbows at Oma and Opa’s dinner table.  There was my son Ben, grown up to be a handsome young man, vibrant and athletic, sitting beside Opa.  The two of them would be cracking jokes to ensure everyone was having a good time including my sister Erika, who had been sick for years.  Fast forward to today, Ben, Opa and Erika joke together at heaven’s beautiful banquet table now but their spots are empty here at our table and we miss them.   

 This is one section of our thanksgiving table, after Opa passed away and Oma sat at the head.  Ben is on the left.  

This is one section of our thanksgiving table, after Opa passed away and Oma sat at the head.  Ben is on the left.  

For those of us who have loss, Thanksgiving resurrects happier memories of past holidays.  We are faced with the reality that the jokes aren’t there, the good-hearted turkey carver is gone, and each of their unique kindnesses and spirits are missing.  In the first year of loss, each holiday brings back a recollection of how our loved one brought their own flavor to it and we can feel sad and lost without them.   I know what it is like to want to hide under the covers with some Haagen Dazs ice cream waiting for the day to pass. 

How do you handle Thanksgiving when your heart is not in it and you are only going through the motions for the family?  It is usually very healing to mention them and remember their contribution.  Some of the ways that we have done that include:  lighting a remembrance candle, saying grace remembering them, telling a funny story about them, toasting them, cooking their favorite dish and mentioning it.  Hearing their name again or telling a fond story about them is like a song of joy to our ears.  Don't be afraid if the tears mix with laughter of happier moments.

Here are four more ideas that I mentioned to my new friend for getting through Thanksgiving. 

1.      If there is the opportunity to share what you are thankful for, mention them and a special characteristic they had.

2.      Changing the way you celebrate can help.  Instead of dinner at your house as usual, head to a restaurant. You can also cancel the traditional holiday if you prefer and volunteer at a soup kitchen, plan a hike, attend a church service, go to a movie or take a mini-vacation.  This way, the empty spot at the table will not be your focus.

3.      Seek to be with those that offer the most moral support.  Stick close to those that boost your strength and vitality. Allow yourself to be pampered by their care.

4.      Let your heart connect to your loved one before you go out.  Consciously hold them close in your heart.  Some of us like to speak to our loved one, “Well, here it is, Thanksgiving without you….” and let it flow including the tears.  Releasing your emotions and words gives relief and sensing their presence is comforting.  If you are a person of faith, remember they are alive in God and in the cloud of witnesses that cheer us on in our race in this world. 

            Not only are the bible characters in the great cloud of witnesses, but so are our loved ones in Christ. 

           Not only are the bible characters in the great cloud of witnesses, but so are our loved ones in Christ. 

You will always have a special place in your heart for your loved one but the wrenching pain of grief can soften to a simple sadness as you grieve.   Human beings are made of a resilient spirit, to live again and overcome even the hardest tragedies and we look for the light at the end of the tunnel.  I wish you peace, rest, and a good glimpse of that light this Thanksgiving.


And a Happy Thanksgiving to Dad, Erika and my precious son, Ben.

Blessings, big hugs and keep moving forward, 
Check out other helpful blog articles on Helga's blog including :  Birthday Parties in Heaven, He is not here, Just tell Me What Happened and The Worst Nightmare plus helpful Renewing Resilience Tips.  
If you are facing loss, get the support you need.  For additional resources, including a no-obligation personal intake coaching session, on, "The Art of Renewing Your Resilience and Peace" with Helga Bender MThS, click here.  
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