Why I Didn’t Set a Place for My Husband at Thanksgiving Dinner

We’re doing something different for Thanksgiving this year.

Normally, we head out to a potluck buffet with extended family. It’s an hour drive, but it’s always been a nice opportunity to catch up with far-flung cousins whom I only see this one time of year. Also, since my husband’s death, I have been secretly grateful for not having to put on a big meal at home by myself. It’s not the work I dread; it’s the memories.

That’s changing today. It’s been a busy fall. With my aunt moving to assisted living, we lost our lazy Sundays since we now spend those visiting her. The high school football team is going to the state championships which has meant more full evenings for my son in the marching band. My other kids have done soccer, youth group and other activities that have left us with precious free time. Just about everyone is tapped out and wants to stay home.

Plus, it just feels right this year. My oldest will be 18 (eek!) in March so this is technically her last Thanksgiving as a child. Meanwhile, my youngest – who never got to celebrate Thanksgiving with her dad – has also never had a traditional Thanksgiving meal at home. So it feels like it’s time.

Thanksgiving Dinner

3 Reasons to Leave My Husband Off the Thanksgiving Table

While this is our first Thanksgiving at home since my husband’s death, it’s not the first big holiday meal we’ve had since then. There have been Christmas, Easter and birthday dinners. And each time, I grapple with the idea of setting a place for my husband so that even if he couldn’t be there in person, he could be there in spirit.

I have always opted against it. And I’ve always felt a little bad about it.

It seems to be a common suggestion when it comes to grief support: set a place at the table, light a candle, talk about your loved one.

I feel like there is something wrong with me, but I can’t do it. For Thanksgiving, I’ve revisited the issue and decided, once again, this practice isn’t for us. These seem to be variations on the same theme, but here’s why:

It accentuates the pain.

I don’t need an empty plate at the table to remember my husband. While I can’t speak for the kids, I can’t imagine I will ever have a holiday meal again without thinking about who’s missing and how things should be different.

In the first two years after Tom died, the grief was so raw that I think having an empty place from him would have been like pouring salt into an open wound. Unbearable. Now, our grief has subsided, but it still seems such a visual reminder would be like finding that sore spot and making it hurt all over again.

It steals joy from the day.

Putting an empty plate at the table also seems to send a subliminal message: you shouldn’t be happy. You shouldn’t smile so much; you shouldn’t laugh so loud. You have no right to be happy when someone so dear to you has been taken.

I think the empty plate may be comforting to some people, but the idea of it makes me feel anxious. It seems destined to cast a pall over the whole day. Rather than being thankful for what we have, it puts the focus on what we don’t have.

My husband wouldn’t want it.

Finally, I’m not setting a place for my husband because he wouldn’t want me to. I think Tom wants to be remembered, but he doesn’t want us to brood over him.

He spent a lot of time during his last months trying to convince me that I should find a new husband and the kids would need a new dad after he was gone (sorry babe, still not buying it). Plus, he hated to be the center of attention, and setting an extra place at the table would shine the spotlight on him once again.

So while so many good meaning people have assured me setting an extra place at the table is a comforting practice, I am going to pass on it once again. I don’t want to forget Tom, but I don’t want our pain over his death to be the centerpiece of our holiday meal.

Have you set a place at the table for someone you lost? Did you find it comforting or helpful? Let me know in the comments below or on The Mighty Widow facebook page.

Are you a Mighty Widow? Join my newsletter list for a monthly message of inspiration.