3 Ways to Keep Your Loved One Close at the Holidays

Author: Sharon Forbes

Being part of a military family, we can already relate to missing our loved ones as we celebrate Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season. Deployments and assignments often kept them from our festive dinner tables. 

holiday table setting

But, being separated from our loved ones in this new way can bring on some overwhelming feelings of time lost and a presence missed. Still, there are innumerable ways we can keep them near for this special season. 

Aside from visiting friends and family for the annual all-day buffet, my fiancé John and I never had traditions to speak of. After his death, I learned there is healthy comfort in recreating special moments that represented the holidays for us. 

1. Do something he or she would have loved.

John was active in the community when he was stateside, so I take a few hours out of my holiday to walk dogs at our local animal shelter. As K9 handlers, we loved seeing dogs we worked with at the shelter find their new, forever homes. It puts my mind in an activity and a place that we shared, and I know it honors him to continue something that was so meaningful to him. 

2. Fill the kitchen with smells of your loved one’s favorite foods.

Another new tradition I've started that brings back warm memories and a smile to my face is baking his favorite pie. As a non-cooker, this is a fun exercise in getting into the kitchen and having fun with the process, despite the outcome (sweet potato pies aren't as easy to make as you'd expect). They may not be works of art just yet, but I'm not giving up quite yet. 

3. Save a place at the table and in your heart.

On Thanksgiving Day, John always has a seat at my table. My friends and family started this tradition for me, but at any special dinner, there's a place set for him right beside me. It helps me connect with him in a very real way by seeing that he's never far and he's always in our hearts and minds. 

The holidays can be especially difficult for us as surviving families. But with a little ingenuity, we can recreate the tiny little moments that brought us joy and laughter the whole season long. 

From the pen of…
Sharon Forbes is the surviving fiancée of civilian contractor John McNulty, who died by suicide in 2015.  A former nurse, she is now a civilian K9 handler and evaluator and the owner of a working dog training and rehabilitation facility - a dream she and John shared. She is a Peer Mentor and shares the benefits of personal wellness, and canine companions, on the grief journey.