The First Thanksgiving Without Your Loved One

Posted by: Erin Ward in Funeral Advice | July 9, 2021

Thanksgiving is a special time of year. Of all the holidays we celebrate over the year, it is often the simplest. There are no trees to chop down and decorate. Credit cards aren’t pushed to the max to buy gifts for all your loved ones. There is no religious aspect to the holiday. It’s simply a time to gather with family and loved ones to share a meal and express all that we are thankful for. However, if this is your first Thanksgiving without your loved one, it can be a very difficult time.


Last year, we showed our readers 10 Great Ways To Remember a Loved One on Thanksgiving. If you’re looking for inspiration and different ways to include celebrate a loved one’s memory on Thanksgiving, make sure to check it out.


This year, we’ve decided to focus on a different part of Thanksgiving. That uninvited guest that tries to make your Thanksgiving emotional and stressful. Yes, we’re talking about grief. The first Thanksgiving without a loved one can be difficult. But it doesn’t have to be.


Grieving During Thanksgiving

It doesn’t matter whether your loved one passed away earlier in the year or recently, you’ll likely be thinking of them over the holiday. I know I was. When my Grandma passed away 2 years ago, something was just off during that Thanksgiving. It was the first major holiday since her passing, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.


My Grandma had always loved Thanksgiving; it was her favorite time of the year. She loved to cook and would always look forward to sitting down with everyone after a long day preparing the meal alongside my mother and aunts.


Something about that first Thanksgiving just seemed off though. I could see the pain in my mother’s eyes as her and my aunts tried to decide who would be responsible for what this year. For so many years, my Grandma and her daughters had spent Thanksgiving preparing a traditional meal of classic dishes and family favorites. They had it down to an art, knowing who would prepare what and how to time everything so dinner was ready to be served at 6. But now they found themselves with fewer hands and more mouths to feed.


What made that first Thanksgiving without my grandma seem so different was the fact that everyone tried to act like everything was normal. Everyone put on a brave face but part of the joy and happiness we experienced every year was gone. During our dinner, we toasted to my Grandma and Grandpa and then enjoyed the meal like we do every year.


Afterward, though, I found myself wishing we had done something more. Thanksgiving is a special time of year for my family and now it didn’t seem so special. Losing someone you love is difficult. Looking back, I wish we had done more. A house full of 20 grownups pretending everything was the same when it clearly wasn’t just seemed awkward.


Ways To Honor Your Loved One On Thanksgiving



You might find yourself reluctant to celebrate this holiday season if it’s your first Thanksgiving without a loved one. Rest assured though, you don’t have to feel like this. Yes, things will be different, but you can still make the day feel special like in years past.


Looking back, I wish my family had done more that first year. Instead of just a simple toast, we could have done so much more. I’m not saying you have to go all out and make honoring your loved one the focal point of the day. That would take away from the true purpose of Thanksgiving and seem like a second memorial service. Instead, there are many small things your family can do to acknowledge your loss but still be able to enjoy the holiday meal.


You can share a toast to a life well lived. You can like a candle at the center of the table. If you say grace before you eat, make sure to mention your loved one during the prayer. If you go around the table to say thanks, have everyone say something about your loved one that they’re thankful for. Many families will set a place at the table or even make up a plate for their loved one. There are so many unique ways to pay tribute. If you want some inspiration, here are some more great ideas for honoring a loved one on Thanksgiving.


Your family might be like mine, and not want to make a big deal about it being the first Thanksgiving since your loved one has passed away. That’s perfectly ok. Speaking from experience I can say that having that mindset doesn’t really work. In fact, it just adds to the pain and grief.


You don’t have to pay tribute with your family either. There are plenty of personal ways for you to reflect and pay tribute. Creating a more private ritual could be the perfect way to manage your grief. As other holidays approach, you’ll have your own special way to make the grief you might experience that much more manageable.


With Thanksgiving just a few days away, now is the time to start thinking about how you want to honor your loved one of the special day. Take a few moments to brainstorm some different ways you can pay tribute to your loved one on Thanksgiving. If you have some great ideas, share them with others in the comment section below.

1 Comment


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