The big chair at the end of the Thanksgiving dinner table will be empty this year. My father died a year ago last April. I tell about his story and mine in my book, “The Karma of Jesus.” Yes, I miss him always; I’ll miss him deeply on Thanksgiving.
My father loved to tinker in the kitchen. Some of my earliest memories involve watching him artfully wrestle the turkey into and out of the oven, then stand over it, slicing it and smirking at my mother as he “sampled” the juiciest scraps that somehow, conveniently never made it to the platter. That’s what I see when I think “Thanksgiving.” I see Dad.
But my father isn’t with us this year. I’m thankful for all that he brought to my life, and for the good years I had with him. But still, there’s a bitter sweet undertone of sadness and emptiness as we move toward Thursday. I cannot and probably never will – or should – separate Thanksgiving and my memories of him.
Many of us will be sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner this year having lost a loved one in death. The holidays are difficult because so many memories of friends and family passed are attached to the smells and tastes and sounds and faces of these special days. These memories call up unspoken blends of sorrow and joy and humor and regret. The holidays can bring grief.
But is there a way to honor our memories of those who have passed and to elevate them and use them as a way to build family unity? I believe so… in prayer. In prayer we invite God, ever present to bring a miracle into the mix of our grief. He can; he does; he will, when we pray.
Thanksgiving dinner prayer is an enriching opportunity to look backward and forward in our grief, and as we do to relish the present moment. By expressing our obvious loss to God we give him a chance to transform our grief into true joy and hope.
In your table grace this Thursday, consider bringing to God the loneliness you feel from missing your loved one. Invite God to set his tone for the day and to offer his perspective, to heal sorrow and bring his miraculous gift of hope. It’s not natural of course, but it’s “super-natural.”
Here’s one model of prayer for those of us who have recently lost a loved one in death.
“Dear God, we are here to express our gratitude for all your blessings. You have given us so much, not only providing what we need to live, but in giving us yourself. We are richly blessed, and it is right to acknowledge that you are the source of all good things. Yet this day also brings a mix of emotions to us. We confess our thanks, but also our sadness because of the empty place at our table. We know that death and sorrow were not your original plan, but we also know that you use difficulties to draw us closer to you and to each another. Here and now fill the empty places in our hearts and this empty place at our table. Teach us to savor the moments we have with one another, to rightly remember what we have lost, but also to look forward in hope to what we have promised in the future. We say again, ‘Your love is better than life.’ Thank you for all your blessings, for even through trials and loss you always, somehow reveal your goodness. In Jesus we pray.”