Halloween Treats (No Tricks) for Aging Parents, Grandparents—Us too!

Suburban Front Yard

Halloween decorations are becoming as widespread as the colorful trappings associated with the December holiday season. They’re very different than the orange, carved, candle-lit pumpkins–and perhaps a black cat or witch– sitting on the front porches of our childhood.

Various shaped and even white-creamy-colored–pumpkins, along with over-sized air-filled pumpkins, plus ghosts and witches, are common sights.  More and more suburban and urban homes and townhouses, farm stands and commercial establishments now dress up for Halloween.

New York City Townhouse

Isn’t this a perfect time to take older people out for a great change of scenery? How many old and/or somewhat infirmed people spend most of their time indoors–at home or in assisted living or more structured care facilities… and rarely get out?  Still others don’t drive on unfamiliar roads or at night, when the lighted Halloween displays create a different mood. For older people who are able to get into a car, going for a ride provides countless opportunities to lift their spirits and add stimulation to their lives. 

Yesterday was a dreary day–mostly overcast–yet we had smiles on our faces as we scouted neighborhoods for Halloween displays. The local farm stand harkened back to the past. A drive to the country is clearly a change of pace for city dwellers.  Yet any drive that takes older people out of the same-ole, same-ole and treats them to new sights, is a win-win: new adventures, new things to think about and, of course, companionship.

Farm stand’s Chrysanthemums with Tractors in Background

We may have limited free time (or the elderly may have limited staying power), yet making time for even a short drive into town can yield surprises like the store windows in this village, artfully covered with entries in the village-sponsored Halloween painting contest for grade school youngsters. If time constraints dictate a short drive, explore the streets of a nearby neighborhood. Chances are there are visual treats everywhere.
A dry run to do the initial scouting has worked best for me. I then know the preferred route for a quickie drive when time and energy are in short supply. And taking someone along for the dry run turns out to be an unexpected treat. The drive turns into a sort of treasure hunt as we look for–and prioritize–the best displays.
Even when the relationship with our parents is “ify,” and thoughts of being confined in a car together for an extended period of time makes us hesitate, the focus on Halloween displays just naturally dominates the atmosphere and the conversation, making for a good time together.

Indeed, these drives are no doubt worth the time and effort. Major studies confirm that connections with others and stimulation are important factors in aging well. Taking older people out for a drive–or pushing their wheelchair past townhouses in New York City– no doubt contributes to their well-being.

New York City Townhouse

Aging plays so many unexpected tricks on older people.  Isn’t is great when we can easily give them a treat!

Aging Parents: Generations Share Photos and Family History–a Priceless Intergenerational Activity

Regardless of current relationships, families’ histories are rooted in their common past. It’s a powerful commonality emotionally, in a good way. Or at least it was for us, as six cousins–ages 50’s to late 80’s–gathered for lunch and photo-sharing.

A far-away living child, I hadn’t seen some cousins and 2nd cousins in years. Our parents/grandparents are gone now. They were the American story. Four of the five surviving children of immigrant parents are pictured above (the eldest, born in England, is missing). When we came across this labeled photo, the feelings generated were indescribable. The girl born in S. Africa; the boy to her right born in Canada as the family made its way to the United States. Dad (left) and his younger brother (front) born in the USA.

We sifted through the photos and albums we brought, looking back a century–amazed to see our current selves in some of the faces. Some of us had only seen our grandmother with gray hair. We looked hard at her photo, into a youthful face that I, for one, would not have recognized had our older cousins not confirmed who it was.

We shared stories passed down from our parents–basically the same stories although some of the specifics differed. We looked to our older cousins for facts, finding ourselves in a situation where our elders were the stars with the most to contribute, a situation where even the biggest “know-it-alls” (and I use this expression fondly) took a back seat as we eagerly gleaned new information from those in their 80’s.

One of our older cousin’s mothers was the eldest in the family and, bless her heart, was meticulous about details. Every photo in her album had identification written under it. We realize how important it is to do this for posterity.

iPhones took pictures of the old pictures. We will email them to those who use computers. Some borrowed photos to reproduce for others. Some simply gave photos away.

Our main problem was the fact that we didn’t have enough time together. Not everyone drove. One cousin was picked up early. Another took an extended lunch hour and needed to return to work. We all agreed we had the best time and wanted to do again. 2 1/2 to 3 hours isn’t long enough.

We also realize this is an easily-planned get-together, that’s really a gift for everyone. It’s doable anywhere there are flat surfaces. Think: care center, where photos can be spread out on the bed. This kind of gathering was, for us at least, like hitting a home run when we think about enriching lives….older and younger….and helping parents age well.