Missing Someone at Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving holds memories of previous holiday traditions, elaborate meals, and being with people for whom we care deeply. This year will be different for many, because a loved one will not be sitting at the table. It could be that our loved one is serving in the military, a student attending college across the country, or a family member who recently died.

Rather than dreading the upcoming holiday, it is important to realize there are six things you can do to make this Thanksgiving easier, even pleasurable.

1. Write a letter. Find some time for yourself, the day prior to Thanksgiving, and write a never-to-be-mailed letter to the missing person. Putting your feelings and thoughts on paper releases the pent up emotions. You may find yourself sad and even tearful during the writing process, but having that private time to connect with your feelings will be cathartic, and in turn bring some comfort the following day.

2. New traditions. If the person’s absence leaves a hole so gaping it would be impossible to salvage a traditional holiday dinner, initiate new traditions. You need not feel obligated to repeat everything from previous years. Maybe this year you want to cook a ham instead of turkey. Or have a Thanksgiving bonfire dinner at the beach. The options are endless. The goal is the same: to come together with people you care about, and who care about you.

3. Expand the guest list. Recognize that you are not alone in feeling incomplete this year. Look around to determine if there are others you care about who have nowhere to go on Thanksgiving. It could be colleagues from work who have no local family, or military personnel who are temporarily stationed near your home. Not only is sharing with others a kind thing to do, but altruism helps lessen our sadness.

4. Acknowledge the absent person. Have one ‘go round’ at the dinner table, whereby each person shares a special memory or experience they are thankful they had with the absent person.

5. Incorporate the absent person into your festivities. Actively doing something is helpful. If you have lost your mother, use one of her recipes. If the absent person is geographically apart, schedule a time to Skype him, so everyone can chat. If your loved one is serving overseas, consider taking a holiday photo (silly or serious) and emailing it.

6. Don’t worry about being perfect – You may find yourself distracted, sad, or even withdrawn at times during your dinner. Give yourself permission to experience these feelings but guard yourself against entering a downward spiral of sadness. Focusing on the other guests, and talking about their interests and activities will protect you from becoming too isolated.

Eileen Lenson