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.
“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:
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.