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How to be Thankful at Thanksgiving (after Child Loss)

thanksgiving after child loss

This time of year can be one of the hardest for those who have lost a child.

How can we be thankful when there is a huge void in our family, empty chair at the table, and a gaping wound in our heart. We miss what once was: a happy, healthy family unit, wonderful family memories, special traditions that we created together and favourite foods that brought joy. These are called secondary losses (Read more here). Each of those things is a sad reminder that Thanksgiving and Christmas will never be the same because someone we love is missing.

I choose to observe these days because my daughter Katie LOVED the Holidays! She loved all the food (especially the sweets), the holiday movies (especially Home Alone and Elf), and loved to find and give the perfect gift.

Our holidays will never be the same without Katie, her laughter, and her joy, BUT I will continue my version of celebrating because of her love of the season. I also believe my son deserves happy memories too. Just because his sister died doesn't mean his world has to end. One day down the road, I hope that his children want to come to my house because it's full of love and happiness.

It has taken me 8 years to get to this point. I hated Christmas with every ounce of my being for the first few years. I hated gift exchanges, I hated the banter at work as parents talked about the stress they felt over buying the perfect gift for their child. And feeling grateful at Thanksgiving? If I had to listen to one more person in my family talk about how lucky we are, I was going to lose it.

Consider this: You don’t have to choose between grief or feeling grateful. In fact, you can carry both feelings at the same time.

A major turning point occurred when I realized that I would always carry my grief and longing for Katie, but that I could also share joyful moments with my son. I realized that I was actually grateful for a lot of things - namely the 17.5 years that I had Katie in my life. Feeling gratitude or joy doesn't minimize our pain or grief.

Here are a couple of things I want you to know:

1. It’s okay NOT to feel grateful It's ok to feel a bit grinch-y. Know your limits and don't put yourself in a position that is going to make you feel worse. Acknowledge that IT SUCKS! to be without your child during any of the holidays and that it's normal to feel sad. Thanksgiving after child loss is awful, let's be honest.

2. Find gratitude for what was

As I mentioned, being grateful for Katie's life has changed my focus. I try not to focus on the end of her story because that's only a tiny piece. I choose to focus on all the moments of her life and the gift of being her mom. Finding gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated. Anything and everything counts - memories, previous holidays spent together, the delicious foods at holiday celebrations, etc.

3. Make a Plan

No matter what, the holidays are going to be hard, so make a plan, then make a back-up plan - for everything. I find that having a plan gives me a bit of control in a situation. Plan to have an escape room or location. Communicate with your host and let them know that you may disappear for a bit because the holidays are really hard. Plan a look or word that will signal your partner that you are ready to leave. Just knowing that you have a plan can give you strength.

And if the old traditions are too painful, don't be afraid to create new holiday traditions.

You get to choose how to spend these difficult days. Choose a way that feels acceptable to you.

Sending love and light,


PS: I created a free video series for grieving moms that answers the most common questions you may have about surviving the loss of your child. You can request it here.

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