Grieving and Giving Thanks: How to Enjoy Thanksgiving Without a Loved One

If I recall Thanksgiving in 2003, I see the shining face of my husband, Virgil, from across the table. Healthy, vibrant, and brave, he cracks jokes on his younger cousin over his over-demanding wife. Next to him sits his brother Sandu, chuckling and undecided whether to join in this debauchery. A few seconds later his choice is made and Virgil and Sandu roar with laughter. The two were inseparable and their bond nothing short of admirable. They could not only finish each other’s sentences, but maintained a solid foundation of respect and loyalty. Their common denominator was a boundless love for their family.

In charge of all preparations, Virgil and Sandu acted as the delegates of Thanksgiving, a flagship celebration of family. Fast forward 10 years to the present, and with both Virgil and Sandu missing, I can only imagine what this year’s table will look like. A more somber crowd, there will be no hilarity, no feuding over the last swig of wine, and no brothers-in-arms up to their usual antics. The silence will be felt.

The empty chairs will be most evident perhaps to my cousin Claudia, widow to the late Sandu, who left our family just last spring. Having already endured a number of ceremonial meals without Virgil, I became accustomed to attending festivities without my better half. For the last four years, I intruded on different friends, drove to distant family members, and held my three daughters as close to me as possible. But despite my efforts to be in physical contact with others, I realized one thing: I didn’t really belong anywhere. My two older daughters had families, and although I watched lovingly as they kissed their husbands and scolded their children, I knew I didn’t fit into their immediate familial circle. Even my younger daughter, 27, had a life of her own: a boyfriend and friends and parties to run off to later. I thought, Where will I go when this dinner is over? An unwelcomed answer followed.

My struggle is not mine alone. It is the shared challenge of millions around the world who fight to fill a heartfelt void after having lost their spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend, or worse, a combination of. A dreaded battle, at best. But we as humans come equipped with the greatest, rarest grace imaginable: resilience. This unfailing sense of fortitude and endurance, of getting up and forging ahead, allows us to conquer almost anything. Profound resilience never fails to see us through. And knowing this is the first step towards true healing after loss. Implement my tips below to manage through Thanksgiving without your loved one and feel their consoling company on any day:

Talk to them. Before stepping out for Thanksgiving dinner, speak out loud to your beloved. Conjure their memory in your mind and tell them exactly how you feel. You can confess that you miss them, explain your hardships, even ask for their help. Start by saying, “Well, today’s Thanksgiving and I wanted to tell you that…” The words will flow from there. When you release your emotions and speak your mind without restraint, you feel an instant sense of relief. You will also feel inexplicably connected to your loved one, as if they are there and listening. This will endow you with the hope and strength to go out and enjoy your holiday like you deserve.

Celebrate their memory. Reserve a chair at the dinner table for your precious person, as if they were sitting right there with you. Raise a glass for your dear departed one and toast to their name. Prepare their favorite dish for others to enjoy. Rituals like these serve as a reassuring reminder of the spiritual presence of a late loved one.

Find a strong support system. Spend Thanksgiving with whomever offers you the most moral support. This is the time to take things very easy and do what makes you feel comfortable. Stick closely with those who can boost your strength and vitality, whether they be family or friends. Don’t be afraid to call on people who can show you unconditional love and patience in a time when you need compassionate above all else.

Don’t force yourself. The grieving process is unique for each of us and everyone heals at a different rate. Don’t force yourself to feel happy if you don’t, but do try to stabilize your emotions and use them to a positive advantage. It’s perfectly fine to release your pain and cry as long as this provides genuine relief. Excuse yourself from the table and take a quick walk or meditate in another room for a few minutes. Emotions may be difficult to control, but you should both allow your feelings to run their course while also putting in effort to better your mood little by little.

Find a sense of peace. True wisdom means seeking peace in all situations, especially in those which you cannot change. Attain tranquility by adopting the right mindset, whether it’s reminding yourself that at least your loved one is no longer in pain or that their spiritual presence will forever be felt. Dwell on thoughts that create comfort and serenity and banish those that evoke guilt or regret. Remember that the past is unchangeable and that contemplating “what if” will do you no favors. Understand that there is a greater reason for your dear one’s departure, one which you will fully comprehend in time.

A holiday like Thanksgiving can be burdensome with the one we love absent from the table. But we must not forget that we possess resilience, an inherent gift that helps us surmount any obstacle. Add my advice to your holiday routine to discover a deep-seated sense of acceptance and feel the undying presence of your loved one.

By Dr. Carmen Harra
Huffington Post


A Message of Gratitude

Our love goes out to the Kirkland Police Department and Behind the Badge for all that you have done to exceed the needs of our family when we lost Sergeant Nathan Rich. Although your grief for his loss matched our own, you stepped in and saw to every conceivable need and detail. What could have been a time of great despair became a celebration of a life well lived, and a man well loved. We will never forget your contribution to our family’s healing.

Thank you for your compassionate service.

Love, The family of Nathan Rich


Kirkland Reporter  |  November 3, 2017

Volunteers transform home of Mount Vernon officer

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — It has been nearly a year since a Mount Vernon police officer was shot in the head while on the job. Mike McClaughry ultimately lost his eyesight.

Now, Home Depot employees are volunteering their time to improve McClaughry’s home. With a little bit of elbow grease, they hope to say thank you to a man who has made a big difference in his community. Read More.

Children’s Grief Day

November 16, 2017 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day,  designed to help us all become more aware of the needs of grieving children — and of the benefits they obtain through the support of others. Children’s Grief Awareness Day is an opportunity to make sure that grieving children receive the support they need. Here is an article with ideas about how to help a grieving child.


“Fallen” A Documentary Film

Between 2009 and 2011, line-of-duty officer killings in the US rose a staggering 42%, with overall officer deaths increasing over 60%. Not only were more officers being murdered, more and more were being targeted, ambushed, and slain in numbers. Although 2012/2013 saw a welcome decline, the numbers rose again through 2014 & 2015, and 2016 saw a 56% increase in officers being shot and killed.

​All sides want to interject politics into these numbers, but all of that aside, there are countless personal stories going untold beneath these tragic numbers. These fallen heroes deserve a voice, as do their families, loved ones and partners who are struggling to pick up the pieces these tragedies leave behind.

​For the past 5 years, a production crew comprised of both film industry and public safety professionals has been traveling to police agencies across the country, large and small, urban and rural, candidly interviewing family members, command staff, line officers, city officials and the public in areas that have lost officers. Along the way, they have captured intimate accounts of heroism and loss. Through the words of those who have lived along side these tragedies, these stories will be told.

What makes this project unique is that it is being funded by contributions from the national law enforcement community, along with our extended family and private supporters in the public. Without your continuing support, this film simply could not be made.

Visit for more information

Not only will this film serve as an educational snapshot of history, but its raw honesty and intimately candid perspective will serve as a tribute to all those who have sacrificed everything so that we may enjoy the safety and freedoms we all take for granted. ​​

Officers celebrating summer with Fun in the Sun!

We at Behind the Badge Foundation love seeing the impact that officers have on their community all across the country!

When Asheville, North Carolina, senior police officers Joe Jones and Carrie Lee responded to a call for a noise complaint, they never expected the summertime fun they were about to encounter.

The officers joined in on the neighborhood’s massive Slip ‘N Slide built for a Fourth of July block party on Sunday, July 2.

“The officers got there and people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, the cops are here. They’re going to shut us down,’ but they noticed the noise was fine. It was literally the sound of kids playing,” public information officer Christina Hallingse told ABC News. “The Slip ‘N Slide they noticed was so far off the street that cars and emergency vehicles could still pass through so it was perfectly fine and they decided to join in on the fun. There were no citations issued.”

“They had such good energy. All the kids were loving it,” Travis Eagledove, a nearby resident who caught the epic moment on camera, said of the officers.

Officer Lee took the plunge first, sliding down the big hill with a trash bag on top of her uniform.

“When the female officer asked for a garbage bag, we almost didn’t believe it. But she took off her radio and went for it! ,” neighbor Katlen Joyce Smith wrote to ABC News. “ They told us to have a great day, posed for some pictures and thanked us for the fun!”

At the end of the now viral video, Officer Jones can be heard saying, “My butt is wet.”

“He thought he was going to away with it because he couldn’t fit in a trash bag but then a little boy ran and got a big raft,” Hallingse said with a laugh.

Little did he know that he’d also set a Slip ‘N Slide record that day.

“He was the only one that made it all the way from the top to the bottom,” Eagledove recalled. “It was the best slide from the three days of it being there. That was the only time, even out of the all the adults and everybody, that’s the only time the inner tube made it from all the way to the bottom.”

Click here to watch the video.

An Auction “Thanks” and Save the Date

It’s so hard to put your finger on the concept that Saturday, April 8, 2017 we hosted our 19th Washington State Law Enforcement Ball and Auction.  Our 19th!!!

Words are insignificant to share our appreciation for our volunteers…  especially Kevin Haistings (SPD) – Event Chair and Vicky Davidson (Survivor) – Auction Director.  A year’s worth of planning folding into place for one and all to enjoy.  This year’s event was a huge success…  not only raising money to benefit the foundation….  but also the respect shown during the Roll Call of Honor along with new and renewed friendships.


Be sure to mark your calendars (April 2018) for the 20th Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial Ball and Auction….  We are in process as I type securing the location and confirming the date.  Just know we have lots to celebrate and want you to share it with us!


Photos by Jean Johnson Photography

Behind the Badge Foundation Launches New Website

Welcome to the new website of the Behind the Badge Foundation. Our mission is to honor law enforcement officers who have died or suffered serious injury in the line of duty. This website is aimed at making that possible and acting as a tool to help those we serve connect to our services and community. Below are some of the features of the site to explore.

Roll Call of Honor – This is our digital memorial to the fallen officers of Washington State law enforcement.

Resource Center – Explore and suggest resources for survivors and family of fallen officers.

Suggested Service Providers – A guide for the services that will be needed in the days following an incident.

Events Calendar – Join us for a chance to be educated, entertained, and help raise support for the mission.