Favorite Gift for My 90+-year-old Widowed Dad (on New Year’s Day)

Connections With Others, Commonalities, Fun

Is it safe to assume we want the best gift we can give an aging/old parent? Although one of Sr, Advisor R’s admonitions was “don’t assume,” I differ with her in this instance. As I look back over all the creative, innovative gifts/vacations etc. we arranged for our parents, to me this was close to–if not–the best. Why?

It provided Dad connections with contemporaries, fun, little work, and not much expense. It seemed even better to me because I was a far-away living child–always wanting to make the most of the time I had with my aging parents. At the last minute I had the gift idea and followed through on it before I lost my nerve.

It was our Christmas vacation. As in past years we’d made our annual trip to Southern California where I grew up and my parents continued to have a condo. As usual the trip included staying with them at their condo in the desert, seeing old friends, going to Los Angeles overnight, then driving back to the desert and staying with my parents.

What was unusual was the rather bleak feeling that was permeating our holiday spirit. Mother had died in June. My parents’ 60+ anniversary would have been January 1.The holidays didn’t feel festive and anticipating the start of the new year was nothing special. My husband and I  were discussing this and the fact that so many of Mom and Dad’s friends were gone or not well as we were driving back from LA. Suddenly I spotted a Trader Joe’s grocery store off the freeway.

Idea: Why not stop there, figure out if there were enough people for an informal get together at Dad’s condo the next day (January 1) and perhaps raise our lackluster spirits. I grew up in that desert town and knew my phys ed teacher (my parents’ age) was still alive and well–bet they hadn’t seen her in years. And there were a few neighbors. Plus some friends from my high school days who still remembered Mom and Dad with Christmas cards.

Hmmmm, an informal party seemed possible, but first–and Importantly–I phoned Dad and ran the idea by him. (Surprises weren’t his thing.)  He like it! That prompted quick action….with my husband’s consent, because this was a long-awaited vacation from our professional lives–and work wasn’t part of the original plan.

Since I’m a Trader Joe’s lover of certain products and know the stores’ layouts, quickly buying snacks (crackers, nuts, cheese, frozen hors d’oeuvre, veggies) was easy. I envisioned an informal open house at the condo, thinking we’d phone his–literally and figuratively–old friends with an invitation to drop by the next afternoon for an open house.

When we got back to Dad’s we made a guest list. I was going to phone with the invitation; but Dad eagerly took over that task.

Not surprisingly, people in their 80’s and 90’s don’t have an over-busy social life. Every one said “yes.” So there was excitement at Dad’s, thinking about the next day–discussing what we’d serve, talking about the people we’d see and sharing stories about them in advance. I also believe we lifted spirits and created excitement for his old friends, who were thrilled to come to a party the next day rather than sitting home watching TV.

There were a dozen or so of us, as I recall. My former phys ed teacher came with a 1/2  gift-box of oranges someone had sent from Florida. She’d never eat that many by herself, she said. Don’t remember if–or what–others brought. What I do remember is how much fun everyone had, talking about old times, recalling people they all knew, sharing pride in children and grandchildren.

I did nothing more than heating frozen hors d’oeuvre, cutting up cheese and veggies, putting out crackers, nuts and other “snacky” things. Dad was in charge of drinks–as he always was when my parents had guests. Paper plates and napkins made for easy clean-up. But Dad insisted on real glasses. I think everyone loved it. No one went home until darkness threatened. They didn’t like night-driving.

The spontaneous party–with short advance notice–can work. Sometime it may be better (especially for bored, lonely elders) because it ignites that jump-start mechanism that can take them out of themselves. That said, being able to look forward to something is reliably more “bang for the buck” since it involves a longer time frame for happy thoughts before the event itself.

Quick gatherings can take place any place. I would think family gatherings in assisted living or even a nursing home (with the director’s permission of course), could make it easier for some older people.

When we can lift the spirits of aging parents and their friends, they feel good. And don’t we also?!

Related: Family Photos Link Generations  (quickly-planned luncheon)
               Generations Share Photos and Family History

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities. respected professionals and selected publications–to help parents age well.

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