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.



  • 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?

    Cynthia Horacek
  • 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.

  • 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.

    Becky Behan
  • 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.

  • 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.


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