When I think Thanksgiving, I think Family Togetherness and the many opportunities–gifts actually– to engage, stimulate, connect, enhance self-worth and share love
Three gifts, incorporate the above in various ways and encourage elders’ help
1. Being with family is what aging parents and grandparents say they want most. Stimulation and Connections with Others top the list of factors that help people age well and doesn’t being with family provide this?
To that end, as a far-away-living child, some of my most cherished moments (now memories) are the evenings before many Thanksgivings that I had elders help Into the wee hours of the night,. Mother, my husband’s mother, and I came to the kitchen in our bathrobes and talked while preparing everything we could ahead of time. Until our parents were in their mid-80’s, they flew back east to us to be with us. Later we celebrated in the west, continuing our night-before tradition…even after Mother’s stroke she was able to help in smaller ways.
2. Having feelings of self-worth and competency affirmed. (It’s great to feel useful.)
–Older people can check that the table is set correctly and put out place cards if used.
–They can bring a “dish” that they make–or buy.
–Ask an elder (we ask the oldest with steady hands) to string a cranberry necklace to adorn the turkey (provide string thread, and cranberries).
–Ask for small help in the kitchen.
–If there’s a creative person among the older generation, ask him/her to make the table centerpiece and you can provide flowers, fruits, nuts, vegetables, container and candles when appropriate.
–Some older people just want to hang out in the kitchen and be part of it. Even when almost-90-year-old Mary inadvertently placed a plastic bag on a hot, open oven door and we quickly pulled most of it off–it became a laughable story (not a mini-disaster) for years.
–Some older mothers still want to do it all. Let them, assuming no threat to life and limb exists. A friend’s 83-year-old mother and father make an annual visit. Her mother cooks/bakes everything; won’t let her daughter or son-in-law in the kitchen, they say. Her daughter’s contribution: the grocery shopping.
–Dad was one of those capable elders who liked to help clean up–with a dish towel, like in the olden days. He always stayed to dry the hand-washed things…a sweet time together for the two of us.
3. Feeling/being valued for wisdom and experience–by caring and loving family members (who show respect for the past).
–We can ask elders to share stories/memories of their childhood and our childhood.
–We can learn about our roots by asking specific questions.
–We can benefit from questions requiring their wisdom.
–We can ask elders to identify people in photos or old photo albums that have become ours.
–We can make memories for all family members if we take, print-out and/or email photos of this Thanksgiving to them (an idea–if framed– for a Christmas/Chanukah gift).
The intangible gifts for our elders are countless, limited only by our creativity (or lack thereof–which is fine–no one’s perfect). In our efforts to help parents and grandparents age well, as my husband’s grandmother said when we tried our best, “Angels can do no more.”