Thanksgiving after Someone Dies — 3 Ways to Support Grieving Friends

The first Thanksgiving after someone dies (and the second and the third and the next and the next …) is harder than you can imagine if you haven’t yet lost a loved one. Like so much of living with loss, the absence throbs. Traditions might serve as lifelines to keep mourners steady — but they might also serve as tripwires to send bereaved survivors sprawling. Here are three ways to support your grieving friends.

Large fallen autumn leaves in the foreground with a blurred fence in the background set the tone for ways to support grieving friends.
“Autumn Leaves Fell Before the Fence” by Teresa TL Bruce for TealAshes.com

Acknowledge

Acknowledge to your friends that you’re aware of their person’s (or perhaps their pet’s) absence during this holiday. It’s okay — and even helpful — to say, “I can’t imagine how hard this is.”

If it’s their first Thanksgiving (or whatever holiday) since their loved one died, let them know you realize this year is different than it has ever been.

Invite

Invite grieving friends into your event(s) or home or gatherings — and mean it. (The smell of insincerity will overpower any tantalizing scents coming from your kitchen.) The invitation doesn’t have to be for a big, fancy, formal dinner, either. For example,

  • “We’d love to have you come over to watch the [parade, game, holiday special…] with us on Thanksgiving [eve, morning, afternoon, night…].”
  • “We’re doing potluck this year and would love for you to join us. You don’t have to bring anything but yourself unless there’s a favorite dish you’d like to introduce us to.”
  • “Is there a movie you’ve been looking forward to seeing sometime? Let’s go see it together.”
  • “Can you join us via video chat while we [cook, shop, eat, hang out…]?”

Give tangible tokens of your concern

Give tangible tokens of your concern to people whose loved ones have died, especially in recent months and years. Mourning and grieving are exhausting, so your friends might not have the energy (physical or emotional) to take you up on active offers. So find other ways to show them you care.

Nearby

If you live nearby, you can drop off a plate of dinner for a friend whose grief is too raw to accept invitations to your house. Or, if not dinner, a favorite dessert or a couple of rolls or even a whimsical decoration like a pine cone made to sparkle with a touch of glittery nail polish.

But don’t drop off plants that need caretaking unless the loss was at least half a year ago. Grief and green thumbs seldom go together.

Faraway (or Nearby)

If you live faraway, send an email, direct message, or text to say hello. Share a picture of a kitchen mishap. Tell your friends why you are grateful for their friendship. Let them know about the funny/controversial/ridiculous things your third cousin’s uncle’s fourth wife said as everyone gathered for dinner. Tell them you respect their reasons for staying away, but you look forward to when you can see them.

You could even send a note by snail mail.

For those with recent losses, especially if the person who died was a breadwinner, gift cards to grocery stores (even for small amounts) could be a big help, whether sent as a physical card or an email link.

Something Is Better than Nothing

No matter how you decide to acknowledge, invite, or give tangible tokens of your concern, please know that saying and doing something, anything, is better and more supportive than saying or doing nothing.

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