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.

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