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.



  • 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.


  • 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.

    Joanne wick
  • 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.

    Tom Zuba
  • 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!
  • 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


Leave a comment

Name .
Message .