Thanksgiving – traditionally celebrated with family and friends – is challenging for those of us whose spouse or parent or sibling is missing. The lonely feeling that might ordinarily be softened by visits isn’t always possible these Covid days if it involves travel. Friends who may live nearby have their own families to turn to. If we dccide to host a celebration ourselves , or are fortunate enough to be invited to invited to a holiday dinner, seeing the togetherness of couples can make us even more aware of that proverbial “empty chair.”

Yet we can find ways to include that missing person. I make time for private talks with my husband and my sister, telling them how I miss them. It’s what Longfellow called “the private anniversaries of the heart.”

Hosting the dinner by yourself can be exhausting without the familiar helping hands. I always made an apple pie from scratch, but the energy-saver was my husband’s peeling and slicing the apples. The first time I was the host it was a matter of (misplaced) pride to serve everything by myself. But several of my guests said ,”We would feel better if you’d let us help.” So I did – and everyone was more relaxed

Children who may previously have gone to Thanksgiving parades with their father have an especially hard time. You can ask some willing substitute if he’ll fill in. If not, you can tell the children, “Let’s watch the parade together on TV.” More important, I reassure them – and myself – it’s all right to laugh, to enjoy.

Still, the reality is that nothing completely fills the gap, Sometimes whatever we do feels like a pretending game we’re not up to, and reality takes over. But to some extent reality can be what we make it. If I looked in the rearview mirror,  I’d cry all over the turkey. Instead I lighten the day by asking each person to say what she or he is grateful for. We had a a laugh from the guest who admitted, ”I’m grateful I didn’t have to cook the meal.”

Thanks don’t have to be limited to a November day. About two years ago I began saying a gratitude prayer each night before going to sleep. I start with thanks for things that happened during the day, even if sometimes it’s hard to find anything. Actually, thinking through the day I find moments that were gifts without my recognition. A friend said all she could think to be grateful for was that she’d had a good breakfast. In some areas of the world that wouldn’t be a trivial blessing!

When the great English poet Tennyson lost his most beloved friend, he composed a lengthy poem to express his grief. I find inspiration in its brave line: “Although much has been taken much remains.”

Let us find the strength to be grateful for what – and who – remain.

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Relevant books: “Widow’s Walk” – available through; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”-; “Come and Go” – Also Amazon and Amazon kindle.


A bizarre competition erupted in my former bereavement group. Although united in grief we became divided between those whose husband or wife had died after a long illness, versus those whose spouse had died suddenly. When I volunteered that my husband ‘s final illness lasted for  23 months that had been excruciating for both of us, a woman said bitterly: ”At least you had that time together. We didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.” Her husband had gone to work one day and never returned, a heart attack.

Comments come in reverse, too. I once heard a man who had been a longtime caregiver tell a widow whose husband had died in a car crash, “You’re lucky it was quick.” (Lucky??)

Grief isn’t a competition!  Losing someone we love is heartbreaking, whether death was from a long illness or struck unexpectedly. Nor can it be measured by how long our relationship was. I’ve never forgotten a shockingly young widow in our group who told the older women, “You each had a life with your husband.  I lost mine a year after our wedding.” The heartless reply was: “You’re young, you can marry again.”

There’s no measuring rod for how much sorrow we’re left with –  nor by how many tears we shed. So many times I hear, “I can’t seem to cry,” as though that’s an infirmity.. A friend of mine who had a wonderful marriage for 50 years remained dry eyed when her heloved husband died. “Is there something wrong with me?” she asked. I happen to believe those who can cry are healthier than those carrying pent-up grief inside them. It’s even more difficult for men who were brought up to believe that tears are “unmanly.” (More about that in a future blog.)

At least let’s refrain from comparing our mourning to anyone else’s and refuse to get entangled in senseless rivalry. We can answer envious remarks thrown at us by saying something like,”We’re all in the same boat.” It helps if we recognize that bitterness and anger are usually the result of someone’s pain. We even strengthen ourselves when we’re able to offer comfort rather than combat.

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Thanks to all of you who sent responses about the inaugural blog. Space doesn’t permit printing all of them, but I want to share two. Dr. Roberta Koepfer of Bayside, New York, applauded the “very sound suggestion ”  to ask a “ grieving (sad,depressed,ill lonely) person, ‘What would you like?’or words to that effect.”

Robert Hanson, author of the valuable book “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change”,sent an interesting question: how recently did the pervasive “sorry” for your loss” come into use? I did some research and discovered it’s actually been around for over 50 years, but what brought it into popular usage was TV.! In crime dramas such s NYPD , characters investigating a crime scene began routinely telling the bereaved “sorry about your loss” as a way to show respect without becming emotionally involved .( Proving that help can come our way through surprising “channels”!)
Previous blogs can be found at and on my website –

Relevant books: “Widow’s Walk,” available at; “Turning Toward Tomorrow,”-; “Come and Go” ” Also Amazon and Amazon Kindle.