At Thanksgiving, Say Their Name

Thursday, November 26, 2020 will be the 31st Thanksgiving I’ve lived through following the death of my 18-month-old daughter Erin in 1990.  The 22nd since my wife Trici died in 1999 and the 16th since my 13-year-old son Rory died in 2005.

One thing I know for sure is that I can’t expect anyone to mention the name(s) of the people I love who have died.  Believe me, I have learned this the hard way.  Expecting someone to say their names only creates disappointment and pain for me. I know now, that there is a good chance that Thanksgiving will come and go with no one saying the name(s) of my beloveds who have died.  At least that has been my experience.  More than once.

Believe it or not, it’s our job to bring the people we love that have died into the family's Thanksgiving gathering, and sometimes that can be tough to do.  At a time when many of us are feeling incredibly vulnerable and fragile, the last thing we want is rejection or indifference.  So – I’ve come up with a few concrete ways we can try and let family and friends gathered for the holidays know that it’s okay - in fact, comforting - to talk about our loved ones who have died.

1.    You can serve/bring the favorite dish of the person you love who has died to the holiday get-together.  Talk about it before you pass the dish around!

2.    Bring a favorite picture or two of your beloved.  Pass the photo(s) around.  Work the picture(s) into the dining table centerpiece.  Perhaps you even have a picture of your loved one with each person that will be sitting around the holiday table.  Use these pictures as place cards, propping them up against a glass or setting it in the middle of the plate.  What a great way to get people talking!

3.     Bring a favorite memento of the person you love who died – a book, a poem, a watch, a piece of jewelry, a toy – share it after dinner with all gathered before dessert is served.

4.    Have your loved one’s favorite music playing in the background – tell everyone the story!

5.    Light a candle.  Before the meal is served, as everyone is standing around the table, light a candle. Invite everyone gathered to say the name(s) of the people they love who have died over the years.  This is a wonderful way to include everyone's loved ones in your family gathering. 

6.    Photos of all our loved ones who had died.  If you decide to light a candle and invite everyone to say the names of the people they love who have died over the years, consider going a step further.  Set up a small table off to the side in the dining room living room or family room.  Invite each of your guests to bring a photo of their loved ones who have died to the family gathering.  Display all of these photos on this special table.

One of our biggest fears is that the people we love who have died will be forgotten.  When no one mentions their name, especially at family-centered events and holidays, the loneliness we already feel can be magnified.  Try not to be caught off guard.  Think ahead.  Be proactive.  What can you do to bring the person you love smack in the center of your Thanksgiving gathering?  What will you do to make sure people say their name?

You might also like to include this simple candle lighting ceremony in your family gathering.  Click here to take a look: A Simple Candle Lighting Ceremony 

My books Permission to Mourn: A New Way to Grief and Becoming Radiant: A New Way to Do Life are available at amazon.  They make the perfect holiday gifts for YOU and everyone on your list who is learning to live with the death of someone they love.  You can find PTM by clicking:  Tom's Book.

If my NEW WAY of "doing grief" resonates with you, I'd love to work with you one-on-one. If you are in the Rockford, Illinois area we can do that in person, otherwise, I am having great success coaching people all over the world via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or Facebook Chat. Email me at if you would like to take the next step on your grief journey. We can discuss details and schedule a coaching session.



  • Tom, you and your books are such an inspiration. I got hold of your book through a friend of yours. This is a lovely idea of including our deceased loved one’s in the thanksgiving. Thanks for the same

    Seema Kumar
  • It has been two years and three months since Jerry died. Yes, part of me died with him – but he would want me to LIVE my life fully. He would understand that it has been so, SO hard to be without him. I’ve had more ups and down a much used see-saw! I think I’m doing much better then the least little thing will cause me to have the tears trickle down my face. I AM doing better but the sadness of losing him will always be there. My first husband, Sam, died twenty three years ago this month and the sadness is and always will be with me. I have made progress however with both of these deaths. I realize I will fall back into grief but I will also climb back out of that hole of despair and go on. Possibly that hole will get smaller and the climb out of it will get easier as time goes on. I don’t want it to go away completely. I know I’d have to have forgotten them in order to not feel the sadness because I will always love them and miss them. My brother died eight years ago and my mother died seven months ago. My brother died too young and my mother was over a hundred. They are not here physically but they will also be with me every day. It has been a long and hard two years since Jerry died. I know I have turned another corner on my road to recovery. I feel a bit lighter with each day I now live. They would all want me to be thankful for all the good memories they each gave me and they would want me to be grateful for all the many blessings in my life. My five children and my ten grandchildren and my three great-grandchildren as well as my brother and the many friends who have seen me through the rough times and are still there continue to cause me to be grateful beyond measure. Thank you Tom Zuba for helping me to realize that the sun is always there even when the clouds cover it for periods of time. The darkness of the clouds fall away with the warmth of the sun shining on me.

    Sandra (Nana) Schock, Sigler, Marcoe
  • Today we held a family reunion and we had a table of photos of family members who had passed and lollies (minties) cause one cousins grandma always use to have a jar of them for the grandies.

    Donna Heaps
  • I think it’s appropriate that thiese thoughts are resurrected from 2012. Wayne died in May of 2012 and our family was reeling from his death, missing him, the necessity of closing down our family business (a business that ran for 38 years..) and then the devastation of Hurricane Sandy to us and our family - I believe 2012 was truly an “annus horribulus”. Now, it’s thanksgiving and the memories of my Wayne come flooding back. He was after all a caterer and chef like no other! Life will never be the same. But especially at Thanksgiving, Wayne’s signature holiday, we take comfort in our memories.

  • Tom, thank you for these wonderful suggestions. I will do this for our holiday this year because you are spot on and the one thing I have learned too is that most will not speak your loved ones name and it is so important for our continued healing. My 22 year old son has told me he even forgets what his father sounded like. Maybe we will even watch a video together this year, if it feels right! Blessings to you Tom.


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