Tom's Blog

At Thanksgiving, Say Their Name

Posted by Tom Zuba on November 01, 2012 28 Comments

Thursday, November 24, 2016 will be the 27th Thanksgiving I’ve lived through following the death of my 18-month-old daughter Erin in 1990.  The 18th since my wife Trici died in 1999 and the 12th 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 my job (and yours) 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!

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:

 A Simple Candle Lighting Ceremony 

My book Permission to Mourn: A New Way to Grief is available at amazon.  It makes the perfect holiday gift for everyone on your list who is learning to live with the death of someone they love.  You can find it 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 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.

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Comments (28 Comments)

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.

Posted by Donna Heaps on November 19, 2016

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.

Posted by Diane on November 14, 2014

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.

Posted by Heather on November 17, 2013

My beloved, my soul mate, my best friend forever, my confidant, my partner in EVERYTHING, my Don died from rectal cancer November 12, 2010, after 31 years, 8 months and 12 days of marriage. I have a grandson due to be born on November 12 this year, 2012. If he’s born on the 12th, his birthday will be 11-12-13. It will also give us something positive to associate with the date. And even if it’s a few days before or after, it will make November a better month. I miss my Don every single day of my life; not an hour goes by he is not on my mind and in my heart, but I also know he would have expected me to “move on” by now; I don’t know how to do that. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still married. He truly was one of a kind, and I’ll never find that kind again. how do you move on?

Posted by Cynthia Horacek on October 30, 2013

This will be our second Thanksgiving without Ryan. My son was a US Navy Diver and passed away on May 19, 2012 while snorkeling the beautiful waters of Haputo Beach in Guam. Last year, I posted the following message on Thanksgiving Day to Facebook:

With all I have endured in the past year, one might perceive I have little to be thankful for…quite the opposite. Yes, this has been the worst year of my life. Nothing can ever prepare you for the devastating loss of a love so deep. I have often wondered why we are all here, what is all this for? Each night the news comes on riddled with tragedy in our local community and in faraway lands. Why…?

I often wonder why life has to be this way for my family, why we must all endure such suffering…as I was baking pies today, it hit me…The pain would not have been so deep if the love had not been so deep, and I am so thankful for the love. I am blessed with such a wonderful community that came to be with us in our most devastating time…I got to experience their love. I received cards, messages and phone calls from total strangers, near and far, extending their love.

We are not alone in our suffering. We are not the only people to endure a tragic loss…sadly, it happens every day. What I am truly thankful for is the love from our family members, our friends, our community, and humankind, those total strangers that reached out to share our tears.

I am thankful for the beautiful garden that was built with love by our family and friends to serve as a reminder of the wonderful life Ryan shared with us. I am thankful for each new day I get to spend with my son Jay and my husband Mark. I am thankful for the family and friends that support us all. I am thankful that I have the strength and ability to assist others in need. I am thankful for the ability to recognize true compassion and goodness in the souls of others. I am thankful for the prayers for our family as I really believe they have helped to strengthen each of us in ways beyond our imagination. Most of all, I am thankful for the lesson of sharing and receiving true and unconditional love, for “Love Anchors the Soul” – Hebrews 6:19
Happy Thanksgiving & Much Love to All, Every Day!

This coming Thanksgiving will be hosted in my home. Along with Ryan, we will remember Pappy, cousin Bobby, friend Sandy, friend Mary, Ryan’s Navy brother from his dive locker, Robert that passed June 19, 2013 in Guam this year and the many families that are grieving lost loved ones. Thank you, Tom for sharing your life’s path with the world so we may be mindful, grateful and present to experience the joy and give unconditional thanks for the gifts we receive each day.

Posted by Marie on October 28, 2013

The first and second year I had my sons 8 x10 picture at his place at the table. The next year I said a poem that was sent when he passed. This past one we just talked about him even with guests. I have to bring him in to this holiday. It’s just how it is for us.

Posted by Becky Behan on October 20, 2013

Bob, my best friend, my husban, my everything, the day he left, 4/18/11 my world as I knew it shattered. I miss him so so much. I will never ever forget my Bob. I love you Bob.

Posted by mary on December 06, 2012

ARIF, we lost our son at age 20 five years ago on
Nov 23, 2007. He was the most caring, loving person
and helped so many people at such a young age. I know
his drive and eagerness to do so much to help others is an example of the way we should live our lives. We miss
him every moment and are trying to help our daughter
who has lost her best friend.

Posted by Miriam on November 24, 2012

Michael, my baby. I had him for only six months in 1995. To this day I say his name every single day. Sometimes the pain is the same as the day I lost him. I am grateful that my parents and siblings did all the wonderful memorable things you mention in the initial years. Now not so much now, it t is enough for me to know that they know. Mentioning his name in the presence of all my nieces and nephews who were born after him might be complicated. Michaels pictures are still hanging at my mothers house and so i know he is ith us there. And they still visit the cemetery on a weekly basis. Amazing. Also my niece was born on his birthday one year later which is bittersweet. One of the very difficult things for me is to answer the question: do you have children? In my mind tyes, in society’s mind, it is a no.

THANK YOU for providing this page venue.. I came across it unexpectedly and both reading the posts and wtiting my post Is precisely the the therapy I needed today.

How Tom is making I through the loss of a wife and 2 children, is beyond me. He is a courageous person.


Posted by Angela on November 21, 2012

Ryan, his name is Ryan. This will be the first holiday season without my beautiful son. We lost him march 14, 2012 very unexpectedly. Thanksgiving, Ryan’s and his amazing wife, Ashley’s first wedding anniversary, Ryan’s 37th birthday, (which is also my birthday) and of course Christmas, are all firsts we must go through in the next few weeks. Not sure how to do it. I do know I love to hear his name and stories you have about him. My heart is broken and half my soul went with him that day. How do you make it through this ?
Ryan, I miss you more than life itself.

Posted by Joanne wick on November 21, 2012

Dear Taya,

I love your note. Thanks so much for taking the time to post it. Rory loved the Gifted Program both at King and at West. It was the perfect place for him to be. You and your classmates embraced the new kid from California with the crazy hair and he blossomed. I know he felt loved and cared for and accepted. And, in turn, I think he was able to offer all of you the same.

Funny that you should mention the song “Immortal.” Whenever it comes on the radio I think of Rory. I can still so clearly remember him playing the song on his CD player saying “Dad, I think you’ll really love this song.” Perhaps, on some level, he knew he’d be speaking to us through that song?

Thank you for letting me know you have not forgotten my most amazing son. Thank you for “Saying His Name.” Much love to you always Taya.

Posted by Tom Zuba on November 16, 2012

I still remember sitting next to Rory in orchestra, he is never out of my memory.He was a great friend to all of us, and i only have one picture of us together from when we were in orchestra.I remember how a couple times he had to correct me because i placed my finger on the wrong spot on the string, and since i sat next to him, it probably did not sound very well… but he was always so nice about it. I still remember the day we were told about him passing away because it is the same day of my brothers birthday.We all had to be so strong,even though we were so young… I must say that it is not a memory that holds me back but it is continuously in my mind to be as strong as you are… waht an amazing person you are. God bless you for being so strong Mr.Zuba.You are an inspiration to all!

one song that always makes me think of you and of rory is the song “My Immortal” by evanescence**
I pray that you will have a wonderful thanksgiving!
Posted by Taya on November 16, 2012

My Mom My beautiful Mom Feliciana was her whole name my Dad calls her Chana her friends called her felicia she passed so unexpectedly she was the strong one never sick never complained always takin care of Dad.When I got the call Moms in the hospital I thought oh shes probably has heartburn.They put stint in her 1 day later they let her come home.Everyone told me,oh thats nothing they do that all the time.So I visited with my Mom and she said she felt good but I should have known Mom never complained.She passed away nov 5 its too soon I still need her here, my kids still need their grandma.I love you MOM and there wont be a single day that I wont be thinking of my beautiful MOM.How you made my kids feel like they were your only grandkids but in realty she had 29 and 36 great grandkids.MOM I will miss you forever.My life will never be the same you were my peace.I dont even know who I am anymore one day I had a MOM now shes gone and I cant do anything to bring her back.This will be a very sad year for holidays for our family MOM passing so close to thanksgiving and our 16 yr old niece Thalia and her friend Brenda passing away in march of this year too I really cant say what it will be like,painful I guess

Posted by norma on November 16, 2012

Our daughter Megan was so full of life, artistic, athletic, a writer, played 3 musical instruments, loved animals and had a special relationship working with autistic children. She thought like a scientist yet had a strong faith in God. We were very close, spent a lot of fun times together. She could light up a room with her brilliant smile and sparkling blue eyes. She died tragically at 31 years old, of an accidental overdose. The void without her is still massive after 20 months. This is our second holiday season without our beautiful blue-eyed girl. She and our son, both chefs, would plan the meal and cook all day. I just enjoyed watching them, loving what they did best. Now, I don’t have it in me to do any cooking. Just made a major move to Northern California where the reality of having to make new holiday customs is presenting itself. Extended family is far away now. Will light a candle, pray for faith that God will bring us through this and be grateful for the blessing of having had her in our lives. Thanks for all you do Tom, sharing your story, and making it easier to walk this path. Blessings for a happy holiday.

Posted by Sam on November 15, 2012

This will be my first Thanksgiving and Christmas without my mom, Barb. The last time we really saw eachother, was on Labor day at my house. We had such a great weekend together. She died about a month after having a brain aneurysm, so everything was sudden. She was so healthy otherwise. This time of the year was her favorite time. It made her happy to make others happy. She loved to bake for the holidays. I find it very hard to deal with. I’m so angry and sad without her, she was my best friend. I can’t really say how I will get through the holidays, but I do have great family and friends. I could fight through the tears and look at her recipes and start doing the baking that she loved so much.

Posted by Stacie Hudson on November 15, 2012

This will be the first Thanksgiving without my beautiful 20 year old daughter, Megan who we tragically lost 6 months ago in a car accident. We won’t be celebrating the holidays this year as it is to painful without her. I do say her name every day-Many times it brings a smile to my face but I still have days where her name or photos bring me to tears. Megan was so full of life. She had big plans for herself. She loved the hustle and bustle of a big city. She loved fashion,hair and makeup. She was a true friend to all who knew her.She adored all animals. She had the most contagious laugh and what a beautiful smile. I miss her hugs-when Megan hugged you, you felt hugged! She was only a tiny little thing too, but what a hug. I miss our conversations about life in general. I miss seeing her in the kitchen whipping up a great meal which usually included cheese. She loved cheese. I miss finding salt all over the counter or table when she was done eating. I miss her clothes on the bathroom floor and all over her room. I miss hearing the sound of the treadmill in the basement while she was doing her nightly run (in a pair of green crocks instead of gym shoes!). I miss her voice saying “ma” when she called me. I miss her sense of humor and watching movies together. I miss everything about her and always will. Twenty years was way to short to have with her but I am thankful for each and every one of those years. My life will never be the same without her and the love I have for her will be with me for the rest of my life.

Posted by Stacey on November 15, 2012

The first year without Adam I told everyone and I mean everyone in my family they better say his name. I have never skirted around his name nor did I ever discourage anyone from saying Adam. I learned right from the very beginning if you don’t tell people what is okay and what is not, then how will they know. Adam was the first child to ever die in our family and it was a learning experience for us all. My family has continuously thanked me for teaching them what it right and wrong and have also continually asked my advice concerning their friends and loved ones. I believe it is our job to teach those who have not experienced tragedy or death. After all, did you know before it happened to you?

Posted by Barb on November 09, 2012

The memories are ladeled and the memories laden upon the table.

I might add another ingredient. Change the place that you sit at the table. Set a place for the loss of the individual. Include the stories and perhaps a group photo from the past… Also take a group photo from today to add to the bounty that you do receive, even though receiving it seems thin and perhaps lacking.

Say the name, Say your names and toss the wishbone into the soup of another year of healing, health and honored happiness.

It has been 8 years since my loss of 4 members of my family and I often still feel lack, but am understanding that my lack serves no one.. Honor yourself each day as best as you can. Pass the plate of peace and health for you and others. It shall come back around! Blessings Susan W Reynolds

Posted by susan w reynolds on November 09, 2012

Our precious Oliver died last year on Black Friday so actually we are dreading Thanksgiving more than any other holiday. He was 15 months old and the love of our lives. I am really not sure how we can get through this.

Posted by Tricia Jobes on November 08, 2012

My wonderful dad is the one our family misses so very much. This December it will be three years since the haunting experience of watching him slip away. He was the most wonderful dad who always shared his laughter and a smile for everyone. I learned so much from watching him interact with others with a very kind heart. I am the lucky daughter of Herman Johnsen, a full-blooded Norwegian who shared his extreme pride of our heritage. Holidays were filled with traditions, Norwegian words, food and even a song or two. We spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas in the kitchen together as I would watch him make the turkey gravy to perfection. They were precious father-daughter memories. Words cannot express how much I miss my dad. My two brothers also say it has been the most difficult thing of our lives. He was truly one of the two roots of the laughter, love and happiness of our family. “I am a living legacy to the leader of the band.”

Posted by Beth on November 03, 2012

Dad lived his life as a wonderful role model for many. He was kind and generous. He was a 90s-dad decades before we even heard about a 90s-dad. Dad was better than the best dad I could have asked for. He was a very involved family man. He worked full-time plus part-time for the township we lived in. He was always striving to make the world a better place for all. I’m so proud to say that he’s my dad, and I wish I still lived in my hometown to hear people talk about what a special man he was. This is my 2nd Thanksgiving where Dad won’t be physically present, BUT I know he is always with me. He was such a huge part of my life, there is no way I can imagine moving on without him. I’m definitely moving forward with him. He lives on in me, my mom and sister, my boys, and all the people he touched in his lifetime. Dad, I’m so thankful for all that you have done and gave to me.

Posted by Debbe T on November 02, 2012

My Christopher was the finest man ever! A wonderful Christian in that he was good to ALL people everyday in every situation and as often as he could. He treated me like a queen and made me the happiest I’d ever been in my life. Fourteen short months after we started dating, although we had known each other for over 40 years, my darling died of a massive heart attack four block from my home. He had just taken my car to the gas station to fill it up and to the car wash. He was going home to clean up and take me “on an adventure”, he said he’d be back in 37 minutes. Instead, his best friend came to my door.

We only had one of each holiday together. None will ever be the same. I miss you, Christopher and cherish every second that we had together, however short it was. Memories of you make me smile through the tears.

Thanksgiving? I don’t care as long as I get a turkey sandwich from someone’s leftovers. My family is distant geographically and emotionally. I’d rather just have a peaceful day at home with the cat.

Posted by Johanna Glover on November 02, 2012

My dad was better than the best dad I ever could have asked for. He was such an amazing role model. Dad was so kind and generous to everyone. He was a 90s dad decades before we even knew what a 90s dad was. He was so involved with family life. He was always there for my mom, sister, and me. Dad was always there for everyone. This will be my 2nd Thanksgiving without Dad physically here. He will still be with me though. Dad will always be a huge part of my life.

Posted by Debbe T on November 01, 2012

My daughter’s name is Jade! Jade was a good student, and wanted to be a marine biologist. Jade loved her sister and brother so very much. Jade loved her dog Ernie! Jade loved her boyfriend Rob. Jade loved the Cubs, shopping for new clothes, and her Subaru WRX. Halloween was recently her favorite holiday – she was excited about picking out a costume for parties and decorating. She had the word “hope” tattooed on her wrist, Jade hoped to live. Jade loved music and Jade loved to sing! Jade was shy. Jade loved to read books. All volumes of Harry Potter, Twilight, and stories about runaway contagious viruses! Jade loved scary movies, the scarier the better. Jade loved her new purple bikini that perfectly covered the port she had to finally give in to. I loved the way she would make sure the door was locked every night so that we were safe. I loved the way she would cuddle up to me and tell me her fears, and hopes. I loved how so very brave she was, how she got up every day with every intention to live. I love her so very, very much.

Posted by Leslie Huffhines on November 01, 2012

Both my parents have passed many years ago (10+) and I really miss how my mom made dressing and REAL gravy. We kids never learned her tricks! Thanksgiving was hectic, but I always loved it. We used the good china and silverware and tablecloth. It’s never been the same without my folks. We three ‘kids’ and our families just aren’t “whole”. Blessed be Lois and Andy!

Posted by Barbara on November 01, 2012

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