Understanding Aging Parents– Tips From Elders for Reducing Holiday Loneliness

Sharing with Santa

 

It’s The Haa, Haa–py–est Time of The Year (?)

The words and melody from the radio filled my car. It looked like a winter wonderland; and kids, amid shrieks of laughter and merriment, were sledding down the hill at the high school on anything large enough to sit on. I’m certain school vacation is adding to this happiest of times.

Then my counseling background kicks in. I remember that holidays aren’t the happiest of times for everyone, but connections with others do lift spirits. I phone a few aging friends with the usual “hello” and “how are you.” (Counselors are trained to ask objective questions–not leading ones.)

I do think this is the haa, haa-py-est time of the year for young and young adult children– who have none of the responsibilities of adulthood; and–discounting the stress that  shopping entails– for newly-marrieds who are looking forward; and for young couples with children who still believe in Santa.

It’s a happy time when older and younger family members can be together, feeling the warmth, sharing, and reminiscing about the past. And the excitement of the children and grandchildren provides a background of energy and optimism.

On the other hand elders say–

“The holidays are a time when our mind drifts back to past Christmases that were happy times. It’s a sentimental time,” recalls one 80-year-old widow. “It’s a wonderful time when families can get together, yet a lot of people are completely alone. As people get older, they have experienced losses. Especially for those who’ve lost their mates, other people’s happiness can be a reminder of the losses we’ve incurred. We’re just more vulnerable to that kind of thing when we get older.”

“Unless there’s a lot of family around and a lot going on, it’s not the happiest time of the year. It’s depressing,” says a 70-year old man.

There’s agreement that it takes effort for older people to find this a happy time. “It doesn’t just happen,” says one.

“It’s what you make of it when you’re older,” says another. “If you make the effort to be with people it’s good, but it can be exhausting. We may continue to decorate and continue to write the notes on the Christmas cards because we want our home to look festive and we like to get letters back after we write the notes. But we need to trim down and trim back so we aren’t too tired to enjoy.”

Next question: How can younger people help? Answers:

1. “Keep in close contact with elders–aunts, uncles. Make sure they’re not forgotten.”
2. “A phone call is wonderful; it doesn’t have to be a visit.” An octogenarian relates “I had a wonderful phone call recently  from a niece who lives far away.” (Most old people prefer a phone call to an email.)
3. “It’s nice to take older people out to something, but take them to something that is rather quiet, that isn’t too taxing an experience.”
*            *             *
Why not pick up the phone and talk with at least one older person who lives alone or feels isolated? We can brighten his or her day. We can make older people feel special and cared about…because they are. And we can add interest to their lives. Major studies confirm that connections are one of the most important factors in successful aging. It may not be the Haa, Haa-py-est time of the year for most older people, but we can make it better.
                                                                * * *
12/20/14 Update: Sr. Advisor R phones today. Her spirits are the best they’ve been recently. Why? In the mail she received 2 unexpected Christmas greetings. One, a newsy Christmas letter, from the son of a dear friend (who died at least 8 years ago). The second from a woman who cleaned 4 hours a week for me when I was working. She knew R from R’s many visits to NY over the years–always thought R was very special. R’s response–in spite of her vision issues, she was writing these two people a note back to let them know how much she appreciated their thoughtfulness.
It doesn’t take much to lift elders’ spirits, does it?

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