When Grief attends Thanksgiving Dinner

Kayla PearenPsychotherapy

When it comes to grief, holidays and family gatherings can be a painful reminder of one’s loss, particularly during Thanksgiving when the focus is on the feeling of gratefulness – which can be easily overshadowed by grief.

While experiencing grief is a normal part of being human, it can often feel that others do not understand our experience or our needs for healing. Here we will outline simple steps you can take to support yourself and your family this Thanksgiving:
1. Normalize grief – as a human process and not a mental illness.

2. Bring your own awareness to the fact that grief may be present in family members and friends – even if it seems invisible/hidden, or if the loss occurred a long time ago.

3. Look out for signs of distress in yourself and others (i.e. abnormal behaviours or moods, short temper, trouble concentrating, change in eating habits, risk taking, etc.)

4. Support yourself
 Set boundaries based on your needs
 Seek comfort in objects, photos, or music that reminds you of your loved one
 Honour the person in ways that are helpful and meaningful to you
 Set aside others’ expectations for your grief – it’s YOUR journey
 Seek professional 1:1 or group support

5. Create a sense of support between family members
 When it feels okay for you – meet others where they are at emotionally and sit with them through their experience, let them
know you care.
 Don’t assume what others need. Ask.
 Open up a non-judgmental and caring conversation about grief in the family – what does everyone need? Can you try something new as a group – for example, reading a poem at Thanksgiving dinner to honour your loved one? Try out new traditions – maybe they will work, maybe not. Have an honest chat about how it goes.
 Acknowledge that it’s okay for different family members to grieve uniquely. Distraction with new daily activities may work well for one member, while reminiscing on time spent with the loved one may work better for another.

6. Talking about grief may feel sticky/awkward. Your family will know how to handle this best. It is okay to lighten the mood when needed, as long as no members’ feelings are ignored or rushed over.

7. If you have kids or adolescents in the family, consider reading together about grief to help start the conversation.
 Hospice Calgary offers a great list of books and other resources for families experiencing grief, sorted by age group:


8. Make an effort to give grief a warm and comforting space in your family, not just during the holidays, but in the day-to-day as well.

9. Take care of yourself and those around you in the ways you know how too.

If you are experiencing grief or anxiety around this Thanksgiving holiday, give us a call at 403-454-7600 to chat with a Psychologist today.