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Happy Holidays

| Monte Schwartz
Happy holiday
Happy holiday
While the merry bells keep ringing
Happy holidays to you

By now we’re knee deep into the holiday season with a ways to go. No doubt, good times for many: lights, parties, gifts, traveling, loved-ones, religious observations, etc.

I love the holiday season myself and all it has to offer. Yet, like so many others, I am also susceptible to the busyness and grind of the season. For along with all of the happiness and merriment, is the stress and overwhelm that can accompany the holidays as well.

This is true of all of us, but especially so for the elderly and their caregivers. Even doing a simple Google search on the elderly and holidays brings up pages of information on the “holiday blues” and ways to help the elderly get through it. It was almost hard to find links that dealt with anything else. More than the websites, however, are the frustrations and worries that we sometimes hear directly from the families that we work with.

Okay, we know this is as real as ho ho ho and mistletoe, so what can we do about it? Perhaps first and foremost is to simply recognize the problem as opposed to dismissing it. Telling someone to “just get over it” probably isn’t the best way to help. Be the friend or relative that is willing to lend a sympathetic ear. Validate their feelings in a way that allows them to maintain their dignity and self-worth. Actively listening and finding out what is bothering someone is sometimes all they want and need.

Of course listening implies that you are giving someone that all important gift of time, that commodity that can be so scarce in the hustle and bustle of it all. As spread out and busy as families tend to be these days, it’s still important to make time for those who mean the most to us. Communicate often with your elderly loved ones over the holidays. To the extent possible, be involved in their lives and let them be involved in yours. Remember, in spite of all of the hoopla, people tend to be lonely over the holidays, particularly if many of those who were once close to them have passed away.

When you do get together, don’t be afraid to tweak things a bit as needed. We all change. Things don’t have to be the way they were 10, 20, or 50 years ago. They won’t and can’t be. Meet people where they’re at in life. Whether your elderly loved one is at home, a senior living community, or even has dementia, celebrate in ways that make the most sense for your family. Don’t feel like you have to fulfill some kind of unrealistic expectations or kill yourself trying to make things “the way they always have been.”

Finally, keep in mind the following advice from the Mayo Clinic website: “set aside differences” to minimize the holiday stress. You might have to spend an afternoon with that so and so in-law again. Guess what? Maybe they’re not too crazy about you either! While it’s not easy, just try to accept people as they are and realize that it’s not the best time to bring up any grievances. Besides, the people who we think are rubbing us the wrong way are likely dealing with their own set of stressors.

In the end, keep the big picture in mind and remember what’s important. As Burton Hillis once said, “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”