Those of us in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving this week. It is a time when we give thanks for our many blessings. However, for some, this season may be tinged with sorrow and a profound sense of loss.
This will be the first major holiday my family and I will celebrate since we lost my mom. Even at 85 years young, Frances would have been in the kitchen preparing a turkey for us and for senior citizen dinners around our city.
My sister, Sandra, and I will prepare Thanksgiving dinner, which includes turkey with all the fixins and mama’s sweet potato pies. Thank you, Mom, for leaving the mix for those pies in the freezer.
Navigating the Thanksgiving table without her comforting presence can be challenging, but it is possible to find moments of gratitude even in the middle of our grief.
Here are three tips on how to manage and celebrate the holiday through your grief.
1. Embrace the Memories
As you gather around the Thanksgiving table, it’s natural for memories of your loved one, especially a mother, to flood your thoughts and feelings. Instead of shying away from these memories, embrace them. Share stories, anecdotes, and cherished moments that bring your loved one to life in the hearts of those present. Create a space where everyone can openly talk about the person you’ve lost, allowing the warmth of shared memories to replace the chill of absence.
Consider incorporating your loved one’s favorite dishes into the Thanksgiving feast. For my mom, her favorite “dish” was the cranberry sauce. She loved the canned stuff – until I began making it from scratch. I won’t promise that I will make it from scratch this year, but cranberry sauce is on the menu.
Cooking and enjoying the foods they loved can be a powerful way to connect with their spirit. It may bring a mix of emotions, but it also serves as a tangible tribute to the person who played a significant role in your life. As you savor each bite, remember the love that went into preparing those dishes and the joy they brought to your loved one.
2. Allow Yourself to Feel
Grieving during a holiday can be particularly difficult, as societal expectations often dictate an atmosphere of joy and celebration. However, it’s crucial to allow yourself to feel the full spectrum of emotions that may arise. Give yourself permission to step away if needed, whether for a quiet moment of reflection or a more private release (crying, screaming, etc.).
Be open with your family and friends about your needs during this time. Understanding and support can be invaluable as you navigate the complexities of grief during the holidays. It’s okay if your Thanksgiving doesn’t conform to the traditional image of a joyful gathering. Healing takes time, and acknowledging your emotions is a vital step in the process.
3. Establish New Traditions
Traditions hold a special place in holiday celebrations. When faced with the absence of a loved one, it may be necessary to establish new traditions. This doesn’t mean forgetting the past but rather adapting to a new reality and finding ways to honor your loved one’s memory while creating new, meaningful experiences.
Consider starting a gratitude ritual. Begin the Thanksgiving meal by expressing something you’re grateful for, specifically related to the person you’ve lost. For me that will be how grateful I am to my mom for supporting me in becoming an author. She read everything I wrote and provided meaningful feedback. Or she would come into my office and no matter what she came in to talk about, she’d say, “How many words have you written today?” If I hadn’t written anything, she’d say, “To sell books, you have to write them, Pat. To write them, you have to put words on the page.”
Sharing such memories can help shift your focus from the pain of absence to the lasting impact and love that person brought into your life. Lighting a candle in their memory or creating a memorial space can also provide a tangible way to include them in the festivities.
Traversing Thanksgiving or any holiday in the face of grief, especially the loss of a beloved mother, can be taxing mentally, physically, and spiritually. However, by embracing memories, establishing new traditions, and allowing yourself to feel, you can navigate the holiday with a sense of connection to your lost loved one. Thanksgiving becomes not just a time of gratitude for what was but also an opportunity to express gratitude for the person who will always hold a special place in your heart.
Hug your loved ones who are still with you,
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Patricia “Pat” Bumpass is a ghostwriter, self-care advocate, author, and parent coach. She encourages and empowers women and parents with special needs kids to love themselves. Pat is North Carolina “born and bred” and loves coffee — hot or iced. You will often hear her say, “Twertles make me happy.” 🙂
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