HOW TO HELP OUR SENIORS DURING THE CHRISTMAS SEASON
In the many years we've cared for seniors, we've come to realize Christmas is far from merry for most of the seniors we serve. Seniors in nursing homes, assisted living or home alone often become grumpy and morose over the holidays and can't wait for them to be over. Actually Christmas can be stressful for everyone because of the shopping and decorating and cards and most of all because of our high expectations! We expect Christmas to be like Miracle on 34th Street or at least like the Christmas of our childhood. Christmas is magical for many children and work for adults. Seniors compare their current state to Christmases past when they were children or when they had children or even those spent with grandchildren. In the present, the grandchildren may be grown, the children far away and can't come to visit due to their jobs, their plans with the younger generations, the expense of travel or sometimes even their own health issues. A person in their 90's or late 80's may feel alone and overlooked and many of the people around them are too busy to notice. A Christmas card in the mail is not enough.
What can we do help our seniors feel better about Christmas?
When you call on the phone or visit, don't just share your Christmas plans like a concert, play or get together. Share your stresses too! Tell them about the crowds at the mall, the hard to find gifts, the work of cleaning and decorating the house for company. You might say something like, "Mom you're lucky they're fixing such a beautiful Christmas meal there and you don't have to do all that cooking". Help them realize not all the things they're missing are good things.
Remind them that not only seniors can be lonely at Christmas. In a casual not scolding way, I will sometimes say, "you know there are different seasons in life. Some Christmases are full of family and excitement and others are not. I remember being young and single and working in a city far from home and not having enough money to go see my parents and other less than perfect Christmases but each time it seems like there was always a special moment when it still felt like Christmas. It could be a song or snowfall or a hug and greeting from a co-worker. Watch for that special moment!
Many times I will ask seniors to share their Christmas memories with me. We'll laugh over the funny stresses and I tell them how lucky they are to have such great memories. Adult children can help by telling their parents how they remember their parents making Christmas special for them. Remind the seniors you love of a special time you shared or a special gift you never forgot. Tell them how you still make their recipe or follow a tradition they created or handed down. Tell them you still treasure the ornaments they passed on to you. Help them to see by their gifts of the past, they are still a part of your Christmas even if they are far away.
Send decorations for the table or easy to hang on a wall or window in a small space. Decorations do help. Even though you're busy, call more often or send extra little notes, just a brief thought or memory that lets them know you care.