It’s very human to feel that holidays should be happy times, with generations of traditions coming to the forefront. After all, we say we celebrate holidays. Doesn’t that mean happiness? The reality, however, is that many people can feel isolated and lonely during this sometimes forced “season of good will.”
Senior adults can have an especially hard time with the holiday season. While aging and maturity can bring the wisdom of years for many people, there are inevitable losses that come to even the most healthy individuals. Many of these losses are emotional and social in nature. Spouses become ill or die. Other aging relatives and friends become seriously ill, or die. Neighborhoods change, often leaving even those well enough to remain in their own homes feeling friendless and isolated. Often the contrast of joyous memories of families and friends in holidays past to the relative lonely and quiet is enough to bring a person down.
The holidays can bring this isolation and a feeling of loneliness to a head.
You, the adult child of a parent who may seem depressed during the holidays, can do much to help. Yes, you are busy and stressed yourself. However, by simplifying the holiday season all around and concentrating on what really matters – people – you can offer your parent help through what can be, for some, a time of discouragement. And in doing so, you may help to alleviate any tendency you may have towards feeling blue.
10 Tips to enhance your elders’ holidays
- Listen and understand when they want to talk, even if the talk is negative. They are likely mourning many of the losses mentioned above. Don’t imply they are whining or that they should snap out of it. They can’t. Your empathy is vital here. Try to put yourself into their place.
- Remind them how important they are as a part of your own celebration and that of the entire family. Be especially careful not to act like what you do for them is a duty. This can be tough, as your tired body language can show through. However, again, put yourself in their place. They may feel useless and burdensome. Remind them they are loved.
- Holiday cards can be a mixed blessing. They simultaneously offer a connection with life-long friends and bring news of illness and death. Sit with your mom and help her write cards and read with her the ones she receives. This can be a time to talk with her about her past in a happy and productive way. You may even learn more about your parent through this process.
- Help them see that you are trying to simplify the holidays in order to bring back the real meaning of our celebrations. Let them know you are trying to ignore the hype that has increased over the years. Remind them that they taught you that it’s people who count, and thank them for that.
- If your parent is in an assisted living facility or nursing home, check with the local kindergarten or day care centers to see if they can bring children to visit the elders. Perhaps the older children can read to the seniors and the seniors can tell stories to the younger children.
- Check with your parents’ spiritual home. Visitors can visit your parents at home or in a facility. These people undergo considerable training that provides them with tools to listen compassionately and creatively. This can go a long way toward helping with depression over the holidays.
- Help them decorate their home or room. Make it an event with music, beverages and food. Bring your kids to help. Perhaps they have home made decorations they would like to present to Grandpa.
- Bring traditional baked goods or treats regularly for your parent and their friends to share. Or have your parent bake cookies at your home with your kids. Maybe that can be their new tradition of activities to do together.
- Spend time with them. This is the most important thing you can do. Look at holiday photos or videos with them and leave them photos in a handy place so they can walk down memory lane when they are alone. Play music. Listen to them reminisce.
- Have them over to your house and tell stories of holidays past. Your children can learn a lot from these stories and further enrich everyone’s life.
Your time is precious to you. You likely have a spouse, children and others who need you. However, your time is the most valuable gift you can give your elders during this holiday. Do what you can without stressing yourself beyond your limits. Your being somewhat relaxed is also important to your elders. Remember that you won’t reach perfection and you won’t please everyone all of the time. Your best efforts will be good enough.