Thanksgiving: When You’re Away from Home or All Alone

Thanksgiving: When You’re Away from Home or All Alone

“Freedom from Want” by Norman Rockwell, 1943

Thanksgiving: When You’re Away from Home or All Alone

My earliest memories of Thanksgiving include preschool art projects of making dough ball turkeys to decorate the dinner table & tracing my hand on paper to make the 4 finger feathers & thumb neck turkeys we all made as kids. I was so proud of my artwork & my mom still has it packed away in her attic almost 40 years later.

I also remember going to my grandparents’ house for a family dinner.  Everything was homemade – the bread, veggies from the garden, delicious lumpy mashed potatoes & gravy, fruit salad & strawberry ice cream. Grandpa always carved the turkey at the table with an electric knife & I was worried he would cut his fingers off. Then after dessert, my sister & would break the wishbone. I don’t remember who won their wish year after year but it was so much fun!

When grandma & grandpa got older, our holiday dinner moved to my parents’ home with my mom doing all the cooking. She switched from mashed potatoes to “funeral potatoes“- a dish that got its name because in our faith you always made them & took them to the grieving family. They are the best, most yummy potatoes ever & are still a staple in my mom’s holiday meals. I stuff my guts to the brim when I get to have them!

Once my grandpa was gone, my sister & her family moved up north, my parents moved to be close to their grand kids – it was just grandma & me. I would go to her assisted living home & visit with her before dinner. Then we would take our place in the dining room to enjoy our meal & give thanks for all of our blessings. It always amazed me that so many of the residents there were alone on this holiday. Grandma & I would go around & chat with the lonely residents to let them know they weren’t forgotten. We made sure they all had smiles on their faces before we moved to the next table.

When grandma joined grandpa in Heaven I needed to figure out another plan for my Thanksgiving holiday. My husband at the time & his family were drag racers & the NHRA would host a huge Thanksgiving dinner at the Las Vegas race track where every race team participated in a progressive dinner. You would go from pit to pit, visiting, eating & wishing each other good luck in the next day’s races. I was able to go to this event one year because I took vacation time. All the other years I was on my own. I had lots of fun that year but was very lonely the other years. Calling my family to wish them a happy Thanksgiving always ended with me in tears, missing them so much.

One Thanksgiving, I joined my friend & his mom at Marie Callender’s for our meal.  It was something new & we had a great time. But, I was still sad in my heart because it’s just not the same as being with your family. I was grateful they had invited me to join them & I so enjoyed their company but the evening call to my family ended the same way as the previous years – in tears.

When I divorced, I found myself again figuring out what to do on Thanksgiving. I am blessed to have wonderful friends who asked me to their home for dinner. For them, Thanksgiving starts the day before with prepping the food, playing board games & watching movies as a family. I went over on Wednesday night & they asked me to use my embalming skills to stitch up the “turducken” they made. I was so honored! I put the sweetest baseball stitch on those birds, everyone was taking pictures & marveling at how handy it was to have a mortician to Thanksgiving dinner!  I felt like I’d found my holiday home & we did the same thing the next year.

This year, I was able to take vacation time the week before Thanksgiving. It will be my first holiday with my family in over 10 years – I’m so excited! I will fly up with my skateboard as my carry-on item so I can skate with my nieces & nephew. We will play video games, go shopping, cook & enjoy being together as a family. My brother-in-law is battling stage 4 cancer so we will make this holiday especially good for him, making his favorite chocolate treats for dessert. Did I mention dinner will be a day early because I have to fly home on Thanksgiving day? That is how amazing my family is – they are willing to change the date just so I can be there with them! I am truly blessed & can’t wait for the day I take off. Once I’m back in So Cal, I will join my friends for another wonderful turducken dinner, games & movies. I’m going to be stuffed to the gills after 2 full Thanksgiving dinners!


Knowing that I will be doubly blessed this year makes me think of those who won’t be.  How can I help them?  My plan is to donate food & money to the various charities & organizations in my community that help those in need. They won’t know me or what I’m doing to help but they will have a warm meal on this wonderful holiday- that is what makes me happy. Please, if you can help the less fortunate find a reason to be thankful this year then do it. You will be so glad you did & you will be blessed for your kindness.

What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving memories?  What are your most enjoyable traditions?  Are you helping those who need it?  I can’t wait to hear from you!

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.


  1. Hi Carrie –

    I am glad to see that you have taken time to be with your family for Thanksgiving this year. I hope you have a great time with all the festivities and activities. I have always enjoyed the family time we spend together, family is everything to me! This time of the year makes me reflect on how many blessing we have, YOU have been a blessing to me, our company and the families we serve. You have been a gift to ALL of us, my you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

    • Carrie Bayer says:

      Neil, thank you so much for the kind words- I am truly blessed to be a part of the work family. I couldn’t have gotten thru this year without you all. Family is everything for me, too & I’m so glad you get to be with them on special days, regular days & every kind of day in between. Happy Thanksgiving! XOXOX Carrie

  2. Joe says:

    Care Bear

    I am very glad that you can spend the holidays with your family , I will be doing the same in the central valley with my extended in laws and out laws on a ranch which will be a first for me I will keep you updated how that goes. My best thanksgiving memory is my mother getting up extremely early to start cooking the bird as she called it and me experiencing the sights , sounds and scents of the cooking before our yearly feast. I have been blessed to grow up as part of a big family and us all getting together to share stories and make new memories. I hope everyone has a joyous holiday season.

    • Carrie Bayer says:

      Lovie, I’m glad you are with your in & out laws this year for Thanksgiving. You have been doubly blessed to grow up in a large family & then have a large family of your own. Being with those you love on the holidays is so important & I’m thankful that you are doing just that- Happy Thanksgiving! XOXOX Carrie

  3. Bernice says:

    Care what a good article. It’s so good to hear that you will be with your family creating memories this holiday. Time is the most precious gift you can give someone how wonderful you all will be sharing in that gift. So proud my friend not only remembers all that she has to be thankful for but also remembers there are many who are not as lucky. I think it’s so important to help I always try to remember and teach my kids that there is always someone with less then you. This year my Girl Scout troop is holding a food drive for Thanksgiving to give to our local food bank. I want them all to know sometimes small things like a sandwich can be a blessing to some. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and take pictures to post!

    • Carrie Bayer says:

      Bernie, thank you so much for commenting! I’m so glad that your Girl Scout troop did a food drive, it is so important to think & act outside ourselves to help anyone we can. It’s amazing to think we have been friends since forever & I’m so thankful to have reconnected with you! Happy Thanksgiving! XOXOX Carrie

  4. Molly says:

    You write so beautifully. Your post is a sad but beautiful window into reality – a reality that not all holidays pass us happily or smoothly. I think so many are afraid to voice what they may consider “failed” holidays simply because they didn’t match society standards. I think you’re brave to talk about your difficult Thanksgivings and I think that bravery works to bless your readers as you give us something to connect emotionally with in a deeper and more powerful way. Warm & fuzzies are overrated. What you’re getting at here, the condition of the heart and the need we have for community are so important and beautifully illustrated.
    I rejoice with you & all the others that you get to be with your family this year! I hope you have many opportunities to pause & look around you and try to make the moments sink in. Enjoy yourself Carrie, cry, hug & treasure each moment to you.
    Wishing you the happiest of Thanksgivings!

    • Carrie Bayer says:

      Molly, you always have the gift of expression- you know just what to say in every situation. I am thankful to know you & call you my friend. You are one of the sweetest spirits I know & you enrich my life in ways I can’t fully express- thank you! XOXOX Carrie

  5. Cissy Santillanes says:

    How wonderful that you will be home with your family vor Thanksgiving!
    As you of all people know, our business doesn’t always allow us to celebrate a holiday as we planned. We just sort of roll with the punches.
    When Jeff and I owned the funeral homes, our families in need always came first, something our 4 children understood and took in stride. We were from a small community so when a death occurred, we knew the family well, so for many years I cooked several Thanksgiving meals for families that were suffering a loss. We would deliver a homemade Thanksgiving meal to their family.
    Once we sold the funeral homes and opened the answering service, we all worked on Thanksgiving so after work on Wed I would make everything I could so that on Thursday, between calls I could get the turkey in the oven and mash the potatoes. We would eat at our desks between calls. Funny how it didn’t bother us because we were all together.

    • Carrie Bayer says:

      Cissy, you are a treasure to everyone & I’m so grateful that I got to meet you in person! You truly put others’ needs first, then join them to walk by their side. I know that everyone whose lives you have touched are thankful for YOU- including ME! XOXOX Carrie

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