Missing a loved one during the holidays is hard. The traditions that used to bring you joy may feel a little hollow this year. You may feel an internal (or external) pressure to keep things the same as always. It could be that Thanksgiving was your loved one’s favorite holiday, which only makes everything more difficult.
No matter what level of grief this Thanksgiving brings out in you, there are ways to add meaningful moments that will soothe your heart and help your family remember and honor a much-loved missing member. While the holiday won’t be the same as years before, it can be sweet, poignant, and just what your grieving heart needs.
Ideas for Honoring Your Loved One’s Memory This Thanksgiving
These ideas are intended to spur your own thoughts. Some of these may resonate with you; others may not. That’s okay. Consider incorporating the ones that make sense to you or come up with your own ideas. You could even make it a family exercise and bounce ideas off each other for how to best honor your loved one’s memory.
Share Cherished Memories
Whether it’s over the dinner table, on family walks, during the football game or movie, or as you sit around the living room enjoying each other’s company, take time to share cherished memories. You could talk about memories from Thanksgivings past. Or, you can simply reminisce over the ones that easily come to mind. Bring out the photos and listen as different family members share varied accounts of that family moment. Not only will this be a sweet time to remember your family moments, it will also allow you to talk about your loved one, which is often what we need most after a loss.
Include a Memorial Opportunity at Home
By creating a memorial opportunity, you allow yourself and others to actively engage in a remembrance activity. What this looks like will vary greatly from family to family, but here are a few ideas for creating a memorial opportunity. Set up a small memory tree and encourage everyone to write a note about your loved one and place it on the tree. Create a memory board or table, adding photos and mementos. Make sure to invite your family to bring something to add. Or, you can create a memory capsule, where everyone brings an item to include (photo, souvenir, note, etc.) and then several Thanksgivings down the road, you open it together.
Bring Their Memory to the Table
If it’s best for you and your family, you can make your loved one’s memory a more prominent feature of the day’s festivities. For instance, you can create a centerpiece to grace the table that features loved ones whose memories you want to honor. Give a Thanksgiving toast or prayer. Go around the table and each share something you are grateful for about the person who has died. Leave an open seat at the table in their memory. Pull out your loved one’s recipes and serve the dishes that everyone remembers and loves. Or, place a different photo of your loved one on each place setting and invite everyone to share memories.
Take Action to Honor Their Memory
If you are a person of action, there are things you can physically do on Thanksgiving to honor your loved one’s memory. You could sign up for a Turkey Trot and walk/run in their memory. Or you could watch one of their favorite movies. Attend a remembrance service. Write a message on a biodegradable balloon and then release it to the sky, your message of love floating towards the heavens. Visit their grave or a place that was special to your loved one. Donate food or money in their name, possibly supplying a Thanksgiving meal to a family in need.
Give a Memorial Gift
A final idea to consider is giving a memorial gift. Perhaps you could give each person a photo of your loved one. Make Christmas ornaments from their clothing and place one at each place setting. Then, when Christmas comes the following month, each person has a memorial ornament to place on the tree. If you have the time, you could create a short tribute video with photos and video or audio clips. Then, you can give a copy to each family member. Or, write your loved one’s favorite recipe on cards and give one to each household so they can enjoy the dish in their own homes.
No matter what you decide to do, make sure to take care of yourself amidst it all. Grief is hard and often very tiring. Journal what you are thinking and feeling because there will be moments when the feelings come strongly. If you aren’t a writer, talk to someone or draw or go for a walk or run. Whatever you need to do to work through your feelings. Get plenty of sleep and give yourself permission to experience moments of joy.
This Thanksgiving will be different. That’s for certain. But you can find the balance between moments of grief and moments of joy. Choose a way to honor your loved one’s memory in a meaningful way and let yourself enjoy time and new memories with the people you love, here and now.