Our First Thanksgiving Without Him
My brother was missing from the Thanksgiving table that year. Several weeks before, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. He was still being processed, so we didn’t know where he was going to be sent, we didn’t know when we’d be approved to visit him, and we didn’t know when we’d be able to visit him. My family was still in shock as we sat together at the Thanksgiving table, with one empty seat. The previous year it was the four of us having Thanksgiving dinner together. Little did we know that it would be our last Thanksgiving together. So the year that my brother was incarcerated it was just the three of us. Since the table had four chairs, we were all very aware of the empty chair. We didn’t talk about it. It was very weird.
I do remember that the weather was nice that year, not too cold and not too warm. I drove to my parents house and we spoke about the weather. When we were ready to eat I set the table; three table settings where there used to be four. We brought the food out and sat down and complimented how good the food tasted. We talked more about the weather. I don’t really remember too much else about that day, except what was so apparent; we never spoke about my brother.
My parents were still too hurt, too confused, and too shell-shocked to talk about what had happened a few weeks ago in the courtroom. I didn’t want to upset my parents so I didn’t talk about it. I made small talk and even had them laughing a few times.
The following year we all moved and had Thanksgiving together at my new house. We invited people over and there were no empty chairs. No matter how many years have passed or how many people I spend Thanksgiving with, I always remember that empty seat and that first Thanksgiving without him.
If your loved one cannot be with you at Thanksgiving:
- Acknowledge and honor the empty chair or missing table setting
- Have everyone in attendance say what they ARE grateful for
- Think about your loved one having a special meal wherever he or she is
- Tell stories
- Take a picture with those who are able to join you; and if it makes sense, send the picture to your loved one that couldn’t be with you
Enjoy your time with the family and friends that are with you, and savor the times that you’ve had with your loved ones, wherever they are. We wish you joy and happiness wherever you can find it during the holiday season.
- Julia, Prison: The Hidden Sentence