The holiday season has just begun – a season which should, ideally, be a wonderful time to appreciate the joys of family life and friendship. This time of year is often the only time parents, children, siblings and other relatives can pull away from their busy lives long enough to spend a few days enjoying the company of the whole family. However, expectations can run unrealistically high; with visions of a happy, peaceful time, free of argument and dissension. Yet emotions are heightened at holiday time – both the highs and the lows. We all want the occasion to be perfect so we can create memories for the future, yet we may not be setting realistic goals. If the baton has been passed and you are now the host family, it is well worth taking a little time in advance to consider the needs of your elderly loved ones. If you put yourself in their shoes and are aware that their needs may be different from the rest of the family group, the chances of the holidays being memorable for the right reasons are greatly increased.
THINGS TO CONSIDER FOR A HEALTHY, HAPPY HOLIDAY
It’s not a competition! For some seniors, handing over the reins to younger family members may not be easy after years of being the host and leading the festivities. They may not like the feeling of not being in control, of having to take more of a backseat role and no longer being able to do everything their way. In theory, you would think elderly relatives would enjoy being looked after, but this very much depends on the personality and is yet another aspect of coming to terms with the aging process. Just remember that preparing dinner should not be a competition. Most people nostalgically remember the past through rose-colored spectacles. Memory: my turkey was always outstandingly delicious, with the best gravy ever! Fact: the turkey was always dried out, and the gravy was lumpy. If there are any remarks about your way not being as good as the old way, the key thing to remember is – do not take anything personally.
This deserves a line to itself – do not take anything personally!
People often say hurtful things because they are dealing with their own feelings, beliefs and opinions. When you take things personally you feel offended and your reaction is to be defensive. If you decide in advance that you will take nothing personally, any tactless comments will simply roll off of you and you will be able to avoid many of the pitfalls that can ruin a family get-together.
Include seniors in the preparations. Give your loved ones the opportunity and option of helping with holiday preparations. This is part of the fun of being together, and everyone likes to feel useful. However, choose a job for them where you don’t mind the outcome – or you may feel an urge to criticize and take over. For example, if you like to decorate your table a certain way, then this would not be an ideal job to delegate, but might be a better one to do together.
Accept that there is nothing wrong with feeling unhappy during the holidays. We have all felt the pressure to put on a brave face and be falsely cheerful because that is what is expected. For our elders, holidays may bring mixed feelings, particularly if they are associated with a loved one who has died. If this is the case, you may want to talk about these feelings beforehand and show them that you understand and are sympathetic. Reassure them that they won’t be letting you down if they end up giving in to these conflicting emotions. Be aware of whether a loved one is just feeling down or is suffering from depression.
Travel is tiring. There is nothing luxurious about plane travel these days, unless you are lucky enough to travel first class, and sitting in a car for hours seems to amplify every ache and pain in the body. If seniors are flying to you for the holidays, remind them to get organized with everything they need in the cabin to make themselves as comfortable as possible: shawl or blanket, neck rest, iPod, snacks and water. If seniors have to travel any distance, they will probably be exhausted when they arrive, even if they are reluctant to admit it. After the first excitement of seeing everyone, they will need to go and rest. Have a room ready for them to do this. They will be so thankful to lie down and stretch out.
Seniors like routine. We are all creatures of habit, but most elderly people do not take easily to a change in their routine. It can make them feel stressed and ill at ease. This is particularly true of meal times. If seniors have any kind of digestive problems or take regular medication, they may not be able to go long periods between meals. If they have flown in from another time zone, this will also affect their eating patterns. Find out in advance what time your elderly loved ones like to eat. Have easy mini-meals prepared for them so they will not get hungry and feel anxious waiting for the celebration dinner. You will then not feel stressed if the celebration dinner falls a little behind schedule.
Dietary needs. Find out in advance whether your loved ones have any special dietary needs related to health issues that need to be met. You may have to select menu items that limit fat or salt intake or find a healthier version of a holiday favorite. A little adaptation could mean you don’t have to prepare separate meals for them. If siblings or other family members are helping, this could be something they could take on.
Peace and quiet. If your elderly loved ones normally lead a quiet life, a big family gathering that includes rambunctious, noisy grandchildren may be very difficult for them to handle. Plan in advance a retreat in the house where they can go to if they feel overwhelmed. Let them know that you will not mind at all if they want to take a nap or just withdraw for a while to read, watch TV or have a quiet chat.
Plan appropriate activities. Seniors get tired more quickly than younger people. It’s a fact. A full day of shopping might not be the best idea. Plan outings that are short and sweet where the trip will not be ruined if grandma suddenly gets really tired and wants to go home. You could bake treats together, go for coffee or take a drive to see the holiday lights.
Don’t make assumptions. Make sure than communication channels are thoroughly open to avoid misunderstandings and drama. Ask for clarification rather than making assumptions. Don’t assume that everyone knows what you are thinking. They don’t. For example, there is no point feeling hurt and saying – “you should have known I was overwhelmed.” Assumptions lead to fights. Be honest, open and clear.
Let the holidays unfold as they will. Planning is important, but don’t be rigid in following your plans to the letter. Be flexible and go with the flow. Let go of your expectations and they may be replaced by other spontaneous moments that you had not foreseen. Be in the moment – because the moment is so fleeting.
Savor and enjoy your time together!
This article was written by Jane Noble.