As I look back on our last Thanksgiving, I can recall the anxiety and sadness I felt as this was the first Thanksgiving without my Dad. Every year, our family would gather at my house, some years as many as 18 of us- and the celebration of just being together would start the night before the big turkey day. We would sit around my kitchen table until after midnight, tell stories, share pictures of past holidays and play games with the kids. The wine would flow and the laughter in the house was deafening. Would we still be able to do this without my Dad? Who would make the cranberry sauce? (That was my Dad’s job I got him to do every year – with much supervision, as my Dad didn’t know how to boil water!) There was going to be an empty seat at the head of our table…and I wasn’t sure how we were going to get through this. The tears would start each time I glanced at my dining room table dressed up for the big day.
We did get through Thanksgiving, but things were a bit different. It was more reflective and a bit quieter, but with deeper gratitude. The empty chair at the head of the table remained the empty chair. I left it open for someone to sit in it, but no one sat there. It remained empty. I think that chair was symbolic that Dad was still with us through our dinner. It was OK that it was empty. We gave thanks for what we had– especially for each other. We lit a candle in my Dad’s honor and shared memories from past Thanksgivings. It had been a tough year and we got through it and from it – we shared a deeper gratitude for each family member. There were some tears that day, but there was also some laughter. I know that my Dad would have wanted it that way. He loved the family together, loved the laughter and would have wanted us to celebrate together with much love and thanksgiving for so many blessings.
The holidays can be an especially difficult time of year after the loss of a loved one. When everyone around you is celebrating and happy, you may be feeling pain and sadness. Much anxiety may be felt leading up to a holiday, which may be actually worse than the day itself.
Here are some tips to make it through those tough days…
– That “empty chair”… do you keep it at the table, or do you remove it? I kept it there and felt that it was right for my family. There is no right or wrong answer to this – go with what your heart is telling you.
– Don’t over schedule yourself. Have some quiet times to ground yourself prior to the actual holiday. Set realistic goals for yourself.
– You don’t always have to do things the way you’ve always done them. Establish new traditions. This doesn’t mean you are throwing away the old ones – you may go back to them when you are ready to.
– Address the “elephant in the room”, by acknowledging your loved one and including that person somehow in your holiday gathering. Lighting a candle, making a toast in his or her honor, or sharing memories or funny stories. It may be difficult to start this conversation, but will be very healing.
– Give thanks for what you had and what you still have… stop and take a moment to think about what you are thankful for: your health, family, loved ones, etc…
– Most of all, embrace and remember that you had the love of a wonderful person, whose legacies of love and memories will be in your heart always.