The empty chairs at our Thanksgiving table are increasing.  Four loved ones died in 2007 and, while the pain of loss has diminished, it’s still with me.

My father-in-law, the family patriarch who always asked us to join hands and say, “God bless us every one,” won’t be with us.  Nor will my elder daughter and her husband.  My brother and I won’t talk on the phone.  Thanksgiving is bittersweet because my daughter was born on this national holiday.

I remember another bittersweet Thanksgiving.  Years ago, when my mother was in the final stage of dementia, she joined us for dinner.  Unfortunately, the only person she recognized at the table was me.  All the other family members were strangers to her.

She thought my husband was a guest.  He picked her up at Assisted Living and chatted with her on the way home.  “You’re a nice fellow,” she declared.  “I’m going to introduce you to my daughter.”  Things went from bad to worse when Mom retreated into her own silent world.  It was all I could do not to burst into tears.

“Mom really isn’t here,” I thought to myself.  Then I looked at the table and saw the antique water bottle and the cut glass butter dish she had given me.  These objects were a link to past Thanksgiving dinners with my mother, father, deceased brother, aunts, uncles and cousins.

This year, I’m fixing dinner and have planned a slightly different menu.  I’m serving an artichoke dip appetizer, cranberry-pomegranate sauce and mashed potatoes with chive cream cheese.  Dessert will be my sister-in-law’s homemade pie, made from pumpkins she has grown.

Now I’m thinking about the linking objects I will use.  As before, I’ll use my mother’s antique water bottle.  I’ll probably use my mother-in-law’s silver candy dish as well.  I’m looking around the house for other linking objects that remind me of my loved ones.  Using these things comforts me.

How can you cope with the empty chairs at your table?  Think about using some linking objects.  You may even want to put a photo on the table or near by.  Family dinners are an ideal time to share stories and my family has lots of them.  My father-in-law, for example, wore a derby hat when he put salt in the softener, so he would remember to turn off the controls.  When my grandchildren’s hamster injured his tail mysteriously, my daughter fused it back together with super glue!

My family members tell funny stories to liven up the holidays and you can do the same.  There may be empty chairs at your table, but your heart can be full.  God bless us every one.

Harriet Hodgson, 2010

Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 43 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 42 books, including 10 grief resources. She is Assistant Editor of the Open to Hope website, a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Alliance of Independent Authors, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. She is well acquainted with grief. In 2007 four family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling) and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and healing. She has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at The Compassionate Friends national conference, Bereaved Parents of the USA national conference, and Zoom grief conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy grandmother, great grandmother, author, and speaker please visit

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