Giving Thanks for the One Who Died

Our first Thanksgiving without Dad was undeniably a hard one. He died in September. Thanksgiving arrived while we were all still raw and numb with grief. It felt too hard to “do” this holiday.

And yet, there we were. Our family and extended family standing in a large circle around the kitchen island, the aroma of piping hot food waiting for someone to say grace. We looked at one another through eyes misted with tears because Dad was the one who always said grace.

I’m not sure who spoke up, but somehow, instead of our traditional grace, we invited one another to lift up a gratitude; to say something they were grateful for about our dad – husband, father, brother-in-law, uncle. To name into our ragged circle something they were thinking about him.  What happened next was a huge blessing.

One cousin recalled his twinkling eyes, another his love of pranks and another the way in which he could make you laugh. We named his amazing hugs, his easy-going nature and the way he’d ask you to bring another log in for the fire. Spouses of cousins remembered the many ways in which he made them feel welcome in his home. We remembered just how much he loved being the host at Thanksgiving and many other family gatherings. We recalled the ways he teased, his often seen orneriness and his long-winded Thanksgiving graces – once he went on so long a hungry cousin fainted during the blessing!

What had been a dreaded holiday moment became a wonderful remembrance. Instead of the blessing he would have given, our gathered family spoke of the gratitude we felt for having had him in our lives.  We spoke in those moments of the contributions he made, of his enthusiasm for life and of how deeply he was missed. We gave thanks for the meal spread before us and the ways he had made that possible.

This spontaneous moment of naming him and his place in each of our lives became the best Thanksgiving blessing we could offer that day. Suddenly, instead of feeling the rawness of his absence we could look at one another and see his larger-than-life presence with us still.

After everyone had spoken, someone said, “Amen.”

In those moments we learned something. That we could feel deep grief and deep gratitude at the same time. That there was so much about who Dad or Uncle Chuck was that could still guide and influence our lives going forward. That it was safe to talk about feelings of loss and love and absence – and to remember that he had made a big influence in our lives. We learned that each of us individually was not alone in our feelings of grief and loss.

In this very first holiday without Dad we also caught a glimpse of how we would go on.  We learned that remembering could help us along the way. That even when it didn’t seem like there was much to be thankful for, there was so very much to be thankful for. Our family was diminished and able to gather together. It was smaller and yet, it was enlarged. And, in the future, we could find new ways to “do” Thanksgiving that were thankful, meaningful and peaceful.

If this is your first Thanksgiving without a loved one, what will you do to remember him or her? What can you do this holiday that will help you remember what you are thankful for? In invite you to explore, remember and name the legacies your loved one has left behind.  Take a moment alone or with others to recall who your loved one was and what they contributed to your life.


Deb Brandt-Buehler is a certified funeral celebrant, certified creative grief practitioner and professional writer. She works virtually and in-person with individuals and families as they tell their stories of grief and loss. Deb co-authored The Hollowed Heart; Inspiration for Women Awakening from Grief and Loss. You can learn more about Deb and her services at or contact her directly at

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