Grateful Remembrance Jar: A Quick and Easy Thanksgiving Activity

So you think you’re ready for Thanksgiving.  You’ve got your turkey, you’ve assigned side dishes to your most reliable family and friends, you’ve asked your aunt to bring her famous pecan pie, and you’ve created a Thanksgiving playlist that will please everyone from your crotchety old Uncle Larry to your always in-the-know teenage niece.  Yep, everything’s ready….everything’s good to g…wait…something’s missing.

Something’s missing other than the aching hole left in your annual Thanksgiving celebration by your loved one’s death. This void hangs in your consciousness like a neon vacancy sign at all times. It’s inescapable and it’s one you’ve likely stumbled around for weeks now as you tried to envision the holiday season without someone so special.

Your loved one’s absence may be felt so severely this holiday season that it’s a presence in-and-of itself.  It’s always there, in the pit in your stomach, the lump in your throat, the words of sorrow that sit on the tip of your tongue, and in the memories that flicker through your mind like an old home video movie reel gone haywire. You’re loved one is physically gone, but psychologically very very present, so what I suggest may be missing from your Thanksgiving is a space to acknowledge this reality.

Some of you may already be planning to honor and remember deceased loved ones at your Thanksgiving gathering, but for those of you who are not, we have a really quick and easy activity idea for you.  This is an activity you can likely do with supplies lying around your house, so please don’t be deterred if you aren’t a “crafty” person or if you’re worried you’re running out of time.


Grateful Remembrance Jar:grateful remembrance jar

Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks and finding gratitude, but after a loved one has died, it can be pretty difficult to find anything to be grateful for in the here-and-now. And that’s…okay.  You don’t have to be grateful for the present if you don’t want to.

Instead, this activity focuses on expressing gratitude for the past you shared with your loved one, for the things they taught you, the ways they continue to live on in this world, and so on.  By sharing these gratitudes, family and friends have an opportunity to connect, share, honor, and remember in a way that is a little bit happy and a little bit sad (there’s space for all emotion at the Thanksgiving table).

This activity is about as simple as can be.  Here’s what you need to do:

Step One: Find a Jar or Bowl

This is called a ‘Grateful Remembrance Jar’, but really, you can use anything to gather your messages of gratitude.  A bowl or a basket will work just as well.

Step Two: Make some slips of paper

My recommendation is to use something sturdy like card stock, but you can use regular ole paper if it’s all you have. In my example, I used blank greeting cards that already had a fold in the middle.  I cut them into strips and I wrote things like ‘Thank You’, ‘Grateful’ and ‘With Gratitude’ on the outside. If you have time to do something like this, great!  If not, leave them blank.

The idea is that as your guests gather on Thanksgiving, they will write messages of thanks and gratitude for your loved one on these sheets of paper and slip them into the jar.

Step Three: Find some pens

That’s all, just find some pens.

Step Four: Make a sign with some instructions

You can do this in one of two ways:

1. If you have no time:  If you’re short on time, you can print the generic instruction sheet we created (pictured below): grateful remembrance instructions

You can also just grab a blank sheet of paper and write down the instructions yourself.  Basically, you want to instruct people to share their thanks and gratitude for the person who has died.  Ask them to share memories, lessons, experiences, and the ways they continue to influence their lives.  If you’re not sure what to write, here’s some sample text:

[Your loved one’s name] lives on in memories shared at our holiday table. We invite you to write down memories, lessons and stories shared by [your loved one’s name] and place them in our gratitude jar.”

2. If you have a little time: If you have a little extra time to get fancy, try creating instructions that are more personal and/or decorative. Consider including things like pictures, a favorite quote, etc.

** If you have children who have been impacted by the loss, this is a great time to get them involved.  Tell them the plan, give them a sheet of poster board and some supplies, and let them do the decorating. **

Step Five: Find a spot and set up 

On Thanksgiving, find a spot and set up the grateful remembrance activity.  If you are a guest at your Thanksgiving gathering, you will obviously want to enlist the help of the host (perhaps ahead of time).  Throughout the day, remind people to share a message of thanks and gratitude.

Step Six: Share 

Designate a time when you will remove the messages of thanks and gratitude from the jar and share with guests at your Thanksgiving gathering. How you decide to do this is really up to you.  If you think you’ll be able to share the messages aloud, think about doing so before the Thanksgiving blessing or between dinner and dessert.  If you don’t want to share them out loud, or if it’s not feasibly possible, consider hanging them up, taping them up, or laying them out after dinner.  In the example below, I bought an inexpensive string of lights and clips from the photo section at target.

And that’s it!  Easy, right?  Okay, now go gather your supplies!


How do you plan to honor and remember your loved one this holiday season?  Share in the comments below. 

And don’t forget to subscribe.

The Grateful Remembrance Jar is a quick and easy activity for people who are grieving on Thanksgiving Day. Instead of asking you to find gratitude for things in the here-and-now, this activity asks you to focus on gratitude for the past you shared with your loved one, for the things they taught you, the ways they continue to live on in this world, and so on.  
#grief #grieving #bereavement #arttherapy #Thanksgivingactivities
November 21, 2018

4 responses on "Grateful Remembrance Jar: A Quick and Easy Thanksgiving Activity"

  1. I am afraid to do this because people will probably have nothing good to say about my son.

  2. I was hoping to find a way to focus on gratitude for the many happy memories we have and this is a great idea! THANK YOU!

    This Thanksgiving will be especially hard for all of us. My 20 year old daughter died last year on Thanksgiving night. We’re not going to have a traditional dinner but will have tacos instead as they were one of her favorite foods. Since Thanksgiving is not on the same date every year we will also have another day to get through, the 23rd. That day we will have Chick-fil-a nuggets and homemade mac and cheese, another favorite of hers. I did a lot of crocheting this past year and made crocheted hearts for her nieces and nephews. I also ordered personalized Christmas ornaments with her picture, name and dates on them. I will have pictures and the slideshow from the funeral available for those who may want to see them.

  3. Excellent recommendation. The “empty chair” at the Thanksgiving table will be a painful reminder of the loss, but an activity such as this offers the opportunity for compassionate accompaniment and healing. Thank you for the suggestion.

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