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Make This Thanksgiving the Best, Most Meaningful Yet

This post was created in partnership with NFDA.

A funeral director once told me the number one regret he hears at memorial services. It wasn’t, as I expected, that individuals wished they’d spent more time with loved ones – having one more birthday dinner or going to one last baseball game. The leading cause of remorse was all the questions they never asked, the conversations they pushed off because they believed there’d always be time.

This revelation struck me and changed how I approach family gatherings, in particular Thanksgiving. When my family gathers around the dinner table, before we take a bite to eat, we take the time to talk. Starting with my father-in-law and going around the table one at a time, each person shares a personal story that fills him or her with gratitude. I tend to hear more about my family from these precious moments than I do at other times during the year. I think this is because we eagerly embrace this annual opportunity to truly listen and learn.

This year, I’m adding a twist. I’m going to bring a deck of cards with me — the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards.

The National Funeral Directors Association teamed up with the Funeral Service Foundation to create the cards, each printed with a different question, to cultivate meaningful family conversations. Topics range from lighthearted to serious and are designed to prompt both short and long responses. The 50-card deck includes questions like: How did you meet your spouse or significant other?  If you could travel back in time, to what era would you go? Who has been the most influential person in your life? The cards are free and you can order yours here.

To honor loved ones who’ve passed away, I recommend reading Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, the book I wrote about remembering and celebrating the family and friends we never want to forget.

Below are a few ideas you can start planning right now to ensure loved ones remain close this Thanksgiving despite their absence:

1. Make Cooking a Game

Serving that sentimental Thanksgiving dish is great, but if you want to increase the chances family and friends will remember why it’s important to you, include them in its creation. Have a few hours to work with? Bring children with you to the grocery store and launch a scavenger hunt. Ask them to find all the ingredients you’ll need to make “Grandma’s Famous Apple Pie.” I recognize it’s nearly always easier to forgo this kind of help, but if you’re open to the assistance, you’ll create a bonus pocket of time to discuss why that apple pie really matters.

2. Play Sentimental Music

My father died when he was 63. He absolutely adored jazz composer and bassist Charles Mingus. When my family gathers, his music tops my playlist.

3. Set a Loving Mood

In addition to flowers and candles, use framed photographs to enhance your holiday table. And if you have old 35mm slides, consider punching a hole in the corner of each one, stringing a piece of ribbon through the opening, and using them as charms to identify wine and cocktail glasses.

One final and important note about using NFDA’s Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards: You’ll likely get the best results if you let your family know your plan in advance. New traditions often need explanation, even those that are simple and lots of fun.