Thanksgiving: What to Do When You’re Missing Someone

Tips for navigating Thanksgiving with a wounded heart

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Ah, Thanksgiving.

Festive décor. Tantalizing food and drink. Family gatherings. Fun and smiles all around. Expressions of gratitude everywhere.

Underneath the warm hugs and smiling faces, many of us carry wounded hearts. We’re thankful to be with those we love, but there’s also an ache inside that won’t go away.

Many of us are missing someone this Thanksgiving. Holidays can be wonderful. They can also be hard.

Holidays have an astounding ability to surface our losses. During this season, we’re surrounded by voices of the past – cherished memories that we hold dear. We smile, but perhaps we also want to cry.

And if we’ve had a loss recently, we’re hyper aware of who’s missing this year.

What do we do with that?

The healthiest option is to be real with yourself about what’s happening inside you. That will mean finding a way to express your heart this Thanksgiving.

It’s possible to take your own heart seriously – including the pain and grief rattling around in there – and still make this Thanksgiving a good, meaningful holiday.

Here are three quick tips for navigating Thanksgiving with a wounded heart:

First, give yourself permission to miss those who are no longer here.

If the right person is missing, your world can feel empty. Perhaps you’re heartbroken or feel shattered inside. Maybe you’re barely holding it together on the outside.

Most people steel themselves to put on a good face and just survive. We hide our grief. After all, who wants to be the Eeyore of Thanksgiving? So, we wear a mask, say the right things, and participate in all the niceties.

Inside, however, we’re dying. Our hearts are screaming, buried under an avalanche of what someone decided was appropriate. If we hide long enough, we can forget who we are.

We are human. We come out of the womb screaming for relationship. We’re made for connection. We don’t do separation well. When someone we love departs, our heart crack.

If you’re missing someone, it’s okay to hurt. Your heart is speaking. Listen to it for a moment. The pain of missing them honors them and your relationship with them. Grief says, “I matter. You matter. We matter.”

Give yourself permission to grieve, even on Thanksgiving.

Second, find ways to talk about them.

People work their way into our hearts. When someone we love departs, they become the proverbial elephant in every room. Their loss follows us everywhere. Their absence permeates everything.

Your heart needs to express itself. You’re grieving because you dared to love.

Find ways to talk about the one you’re missing. Speak their name – out loud and often. There is power in a person’s name. Your voice speaking their name is deeply meaningful.

As the memories come, share some of them. If you’re alone, talk out loud, as if you’re sharing with someone else. Or write it down. If someone is willing to listen, tell some of your loved one’s story – your story of them. You’ll be surprised how healing talking about them can be.

Some are afraid of sharing. They fear getting emotional. Plus, if others present also know the person (they were a family member, for example), many are terrified of setting off a chain reaction of grief.

But would that be such a bad thing?

The grief is already inside you, and it’s looking for a way out. The more you keep it in, the more likely it is to leak out in ways you won’t like. Others have grief inside them too. By being real and authentic, you give them a chance to express their hearts also.

Be bold. Take courage. Speak their name. Share a memory or story. Honor them by remembering them. You’ll be doing yourself and everyone around you a favor.  

Third, make a simple plan to honor the one you miss.

Be proactive. Make a simple plan to honor your loved one this Thanksgiving. Your heart will thank you.  

Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Light a candle in remembrance.
  2. Buy them a card or write them a letter.
  3. Set up an empty chair and tell them what you’re thankful for about them.
  4. Make a donation in their honor.
  5. Serve in a cause that was important to them.
  6. Have a time of sharing memories together with others who knew them.

Be creative. Do what makes the most sense to you. Keep it simple.

Grief is an expression of love. Take your heart seriously. This Thanksgiving will be different, but it can still be good.

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