Thanksgiving Without My Mom


With eyes as wide as saucers, my three-year-old daughter, Aria, whispered loudly to her baby doll, “Mommy said we are running away from the bad guy Gweef, and that’s why we won’t see you for Thanksgiving.” She’s mostly right. She must have overheard me say I’m escaping grief and going away for Thanksgiving. Toys aren’t allowed on family trips, so yes, baby doll will stay in Indy.

Mimi and her two granddaughters, Reya and Aria, Thanksgiving 2020

Thanksgiving will be the first major holiday without my mom, whom we affectionately called Mimi. She died earlier this year from cancer and left a huge hole in our family’s fabric. If you’ve lost a loved one, you might share my feelings of dread, avoidance, and anxiety about Thanksgiving. It is normal for grieving family members to experience waves of sadness, anger, or even numbness as the holidays approach.

My siblings and I decided to change our routine this year to combat the inevitable, intense emotions that Thanksgiving without Mimi will bring. It would be torturous to continue the traditions that involved our mom, so we decided on a change of scenery. 

My mom’s legacy, her children and grandchildren, rented a house in another city and will cater our turkey dinner this year. We are creating new family routines as we adjust to life without our beloved matriarch. To honor Mimi, we will decorate our temporary home with a purple explosion, her favorite color. Our outfits, tablecloth, placemats, and dinnerware will be lavender, plum, violet, and lilac. 

Mimi and her legacy, Thanksgiving 2019

I lost my father to complications with diabetes in 2006; I have been surviving holidays without him for many years. My dad’s death has helped me navigate losing my mom, and I have some tools in my abstract grief kit. Here are some tips I wish I knew when I was grieving the loss of my dad during the holidays: 

  • Incorporate your loved one in the celebration. Think of special recipes, favorite music, or holiday photos you can share to remind you of your special person. 
  • Talk about them. Say their names. Tell stories about them. Imagine aloud what they would say if they were here. Through stories, younger generations of your family will learn about your loved one, understand why they were so important to you, and keep their memory alive.
  • Create an exit plan if you are too overwhelmed. If you are a guest, give yourself permission to leave early, find a quiet space to escape for a while, or end the festivities early if you are the host. 
  • Give yourself permission to feel various emotions. You may be happy, sad, angry, and numb in the same hour. That’s ok. Give yourself grace. 
  • Make new memories. Enjoy the family you have left and be present with them. Learn a TikTok dance with the young adults and teenagers. Play board games, compete in a dessert bake-off, or create holiday crafts with younger family members. 

Aria’s right. Mommy is escaping the bad guy Gweef and running away. I’m running away from the dining table that holds all the memories of Thanksgiving with our sweet angel, Mimi. I’m running away from the feelings of sadness as I look at the empty chair where she should be. Will I ever have Thanksgiving in Indy again? Maybe. For now, I’m running to new memories, new traditions, and a new place to honor my mom through stories, her special recipes, an explosion of purple, and all the love for Mimi that my heart can hold.