Helen W. Harris, a senior lecturer at Baylor University's School of Social Work, who researches grief and loss, and teaches a class on the subject, said five years ago her father-in-law died of a sudden heart attack right after Thanksgiving Day dinner.
"The awareness of what had been a fun family gathering in the past was now sort of something that we were dreading. Are we going to be more focused on giving thanks for the incredible life my father-in-law lived and what he meant to us, or are we going to be more focused on the horror of those couple of hours?" Harris asked.
One month later, Harris's family chose to remember her father-in-law at Christmas by placing ornaments bearing his name on all family members' trees.
"It acknowledged how important he is and symbolically said, even though you're not here physically, you're still here and part of what we're doing," Harris said in a statement.
As families work through their grief, it is important, Harris said, to determine what works best for them and to plan ahead.
"In some cases that means going back to the same home and having dinner together. It might be to do something completely different," Harris said "Everyone has to find their own way, but the only way that happens is if people acknowledge that this is a profound event and we as a family have figure out what we feel about it and what we need to do that will help us heal."