UNDERSTANDING AGING PARENTS–ELDERS’ TIPS TO COMBAT HOLIDAY LONELINESS

First posted in 2009–with variations each year
Sharing with SantaIt’s The Haa, Haa–py–est Time of The Year (?)

The words and melody from the radio filled my car. A winter wonderland was outside. 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.

My counseling background kicks in. I know that holidays aren’t the happiest of times for many old people. So I decide to phone some elderly friends, simply to say “hello” and ask “how are you?”  Let me share what I learned–

It’s the happiest time of the year for children– who have none of the responsibilities of adulthood.

It’s the happiest time when elders and younger family members can be together–feeling the warmth–sharing, and reminiscing. The excitement of the children and grandchildren provides a background of energy and optimism.

And yet–

“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 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.”

And then– elder’s tips:

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. A phone call is active, implies interest in hearing  the other person, provides stimulation.)
3. “It’s nice to take older people out to something, but take them to something that’s rather quiet, that isn’t too taxing an experience.”
 Forever stamp
And let’s not forget the value of Christmas mail. Is an old friend of our parents–to whom we could send a card–  still alive?  Note 2014 update below.
                  * * *
12/20/14 Update: Sr. Advisor R (age 101) phones us. Her spirits are the best they’ve been recently. Why? She received 2 unexpected Christmas greetings. One, a newsy Christmas letter from the son of an old friend (who died years ago).

     The second from my 4-hours-a-week cleaning person. She and R spent time together on R’s many visits to us when I worked. In spite of R’s limited vision, she said she was writing these two people to let them know how much she appreciated being remembered.

While It may not be the Haa, Haa-py-est time of the year for many older people, we can make it better.
                                                           *
               Specific Thanksgiving Gifts Help Parents Age Well  (intangible gifts for empowering and affirming self-worth)
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.

2 thoughts on “UNDERSTANDING AGING PARENTS–ELDERS’ TIPS TO COMBAT HOLIDAY LONELINESS

  1. This is always a concern of mine as the holidays approach—not so much for my own family, since all of our parents have passed. But I’m aware that there are many in their own homes and in residences who spend sad times at Christmas. I try to do my part. I know I can never cover all of the bases.

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