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. Carrie,

    I’m so glad for you that you are with family for the first time in a long while on this holiday of thanks. I so appreciate you and your attitude of positive energy as you have wrestled with the trials and tribulations of life. I have been very lucky in my life in the sense that I have always been able to be with family or friends during this holiday. School or work has never taking me to far away for which I give thanks for and appreciate even more as I write this. What I have had to endure much like the rest of us is family and friends no longer with us physically but in spirit. I used to go along with my family to my Uncle Ray’s and Aunt ursula’s house every year for Thanksgiving. My Uncle was a classic, he would have you in stitches within moments of meeting him and in grand Italian style thanksgiving meals where not just about the turkey. Oh no, you had to have the wedding soup and italian sausage and why not some manicotti just in case 100 lbs of bird did not fill you up. I miss those moments and I miss my Uncle Ray. The first thanksgiving after his death was not the same to say the least. But we set up his chair at the head of the table and went around and told our favorite Uncle Ray stories. I swear he was there! Thanks Carrie for being a part of our lives and being a part of why I give thanks.


    • Carrie Bayer says:

      Chuck, you brought tears to my eyes! I appreciate you so much, your spirit of gratitude is infectious- all who are near you can’t help but catch it! Your memories are awesome, thank you for sharing them! XOXOX Carrie

  2. Marianne Piotrowski says:

    With my parents and grandparents gone now many years along with most of my aunts and uncles, the holidays don’t mean as much as they used to. My parents were at odds with their siblings Especially my father. So I have plenty of cousins but none of whom I or my brother are close to. This is a shame I know but it happens. We have by luck connected with a cousin Virginia through of all places Facebook. I don’t get to chat with them much because they are very busy but we do enjoy whatever time we can spare for each other.

    • Carrie Bayer says:

      Mari, thank you so much for sharing. It is really tough during the holidays when family is all gone. I’m glad you have reconnected with your cousin- maybe you can make up for lost time by getting together & starting some new holiday traditions. I love you, my dear friend! XOXOX Carrie

  3. Anne Collins says:

    I am overjoyed that you get to go be with family this Thanksgiving. Treasure every minute!
    We moved to CA right after we married in the 60’s. All of our family was in Michigan. There was not one Christmas or Thanksgiving in all those years that we got to go home. There just wasn’t the money for it or ability to have the time off it would take to drive that far. So, we had to make it with friends or with just my husband and I and our little daughter. It was lonely for sure, year after year. My one brother out here didn’t celebrate Christmas although they invited us for at least one Thanksgiving. Later when our daughter married and had a family of her own, we could start gathering as a larger group. Luckily, we had some stable, long-time friends who we usually celebrated with in those years and it meant a lot to us.
    I am thankful for friends who gather together and make the best of these special days when family is so spread out. We have re-connected with the wife half of our special friends who made all those holidays years ago warm and cozy for us. It feels good to remember their kindness and loving inclusion of us for so many holidays that would otherwise be lonely.

    • Carrie Bayer says:

      Anne, it is so comforting to know that others have had similar experiences to mine. Thank you so much for sharing yours with me. You have an amazing family- I absolutely adore Lou & YOU! I hope you have the most beautiful holiday! XOXOX CArrie

  4. Kasey says:

    When I was a kid, every year my grandfather would write a letter to all of his grand kids about what he and my grandmother had been up to that year.. There were 6 of us and he used a typewriter and carbon paper.. that tells you how long ago it was. I think George actually started the tradition of the annual holiday letter.

    With each letter, he would write to each of us for $25.00. As a kid, the letter was tossed, often without being read, and I would spend that $25.00 as fast as I could. As I grew up or should I say, as I grew older, I realized the significance of the letter. Every Thanksgiving I would look forward to getting that letter in the mail. I was so fascinated by what kind of mischief they had gotten themselves into that year. It was no longer about the $25.00, it was about my grandparents.

    I miss them..

    Start a new tradition with your family, one that they will look forward to every year..

    Take Good Care


    • Carrie Bayer says:

      Kasey, what a special gesture your grandparents made! It touches my heart to know they did this for you & that it was so special. I love the idea of starting a new tradition in my family & I’m certain I will draw from your experience. Thank you so much for sharing & giving me a great idea on how I can give thanks to those I love. Carrie

  5. Lori says:

    As you know, this is a post that I can relate to for so many reasons.
    I am preparing to spend what I believe will be the last Thanksgiving with my grandmother at her assisted living facility. I am all too familiar with the sadness for the little old ladies and men who are sitting at tables all alone. I have shared a smile or short conversations with them whenever I feel my presence would be welcome.
    Next year I will likely have to find a new Thanksgiving tradition. Like you, I am blessed with amazing friends who include me in their family celebrations.
    I hope next year I am able to get a few days away from work to travel to Nevada to see my family. It has been three years since we have all celebrated a holiday together.
    I am thrilled for you that you get the opportunity this year. I know the time with you family is something you have looked forward to for a long time. Enjoy every minute! You deserve this!
    xoxoxoxo Lori

    • Carrie Bayer says:

      Lori, I can sure understand how it feels to be facing your likely last holiday with your grandma. It’s bittersweet on many levels- you are grateful to have them & want to make it extra special but sad to know you probably won’t have the opportunity again. Make the very best of this holiday, add a little something new & special that the both of you will hold dear. I’m hopeful that you get to have future holidays with your family. There is nothing like being together on a special day of thanks. You are so special to me! XOXOX Carrie

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