For many, the holiday season can be a difficult time under the best of circumstances. Stress, brought on by increased demands on your time, errands to run, packages to mail and a long list of loved ones you hope to make happy, can rob you of your feelings of peace and harmony. It’s easy to forget yourself, feel run down, catch that seasonal bug and feel frustrated that you cannot seem to get on top of your tasks. Then, melancholy can set in. Remembering those who should be with you but who are not, family traditions broken by distance or divorce can leave you feeling an inexplicable sense of emptiness or loss. While the holidays are billed as the "most wonderful time of the year," you might find yourself asking, "What’s so wonderful about it?"
First, know that you are not alone. If you look around, you’ll find company in many others who try to paste on a smile, grit their teeth and just hope to get through it. If you look even closer, you’ll find that a large group of individuals who share your feelings are seniors and people with disabilities.
Loneliness, borne out of isolation, can keep even the most optimistic among us from feeling as though we are connected to events and other people. It’s hard to enjoy the holidays when we feel as though we have no one to enjoy them with. Celebrating the holidays exclusively FOR the benefit of children, or solely to fulfill the expectations of others can be draining. We all need to feel a sense of belonging, to have people in our lives with whom we feel connected and by whom we are acknowledged. People with disabilities and the elderly are often marginalized in our culture, if not forgotten altogether. Here are just a few ways you can bring some of the delights of the season to someone who is alone and isolated. In doing so, you may discover that your own spirits lift; the gift you receive when you give of yourself.
Take a senior for a spin. Bring a blanket, a thermos of hot chocolate, some snacks, a few holiday CD’s and pile into the car. Go out for a while touring your community’s holiday light displays. This will get that senior out of the house without subjecting them to any strenuous walking or uncomfortable visiting.
Savor the sounds of the season. Whether you sing along or simply sit, bring a senior to a holiday concert. Programs performed by children may be especially charming for an older person, although they may prefer music performed by a church choir or favorite musical group.
Bring the holiday home. Help a senior to decorate their home, even if it’s just to place a tabletop tree near the television or on a side table so that it’s easily seen. Offer to help with tasks such as addressing and mailing holiday cards or gift wrapping. If an older person is too intimidated to work a stereo or CD player, or doesn’t own one, bring yours over for an evening of hot cider and sweet treats and music. Or, find their radio, set it to one of those radio stations that play only holiday music all season, and mark the ‘on" button so a senior with failing eyesight can find it.
Take them in shopping. Not OUT shopping, IN shopping. If a senior or person with a disability cannot go out to shop, or they just don’t have the stamina to fight the crowds, bring over your laptop or phone and help them shop online. Even if they cannot give gifts to their entire family, you can help them to purchase a gift basket or gourmet food item for a family gathering. This way, they will know that they have made a contribution that will be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone.
Make a love connection. Set up your webcam and Skype software so that they can visit "face to face" with loved ones across the country. If a senior is unable to travel, connecting them to their children or granchildren in this way brings the magic of technology home in a way that is real and practical for them. Fire up your laptop and let the love begin.
Party hearty. Well, within reason. Find out if a local senior center is hosting a holiday lunch or gift exchange, and bring a lonely senior to spend the afternoon among peers. The festive atmosphere can help them to connect with others, make friends and could even motivate them to get out a little more.
Strengthen spirit. Some municipalities do not offer public transportation services on weekends. Offer to take a home-bound friend or neighbor to their spiritual services of choice. Many religious organizations provide special events, meals and programs just for their elderly parishioners.
These are just a few tips to get you started. Keep in mind that for seniors living in a facility such as assisted living or a group home, the reason they are there may be because close relatives are unavailable. If a senior is in a nursing home for the first time, the unfamiliar surroundings may contribute to increased feelings of loneliness or homesickness. Perhaps they have lost siblings, friends of their own, or they have recently lost their spouse. Even if a senior is living at home, those first holidays alone can be extremely difficult. Consider how you can help a person who is disabled or elderly to connect with a shared event like a holiday. By reaching out, you can inspire in others a renewed interest in life and an increased desire to be a part of it. Bring home for a senior the sights, sounds and sentiments of the season and you’ll be giving a gift to yourself, too.
Copyright 2009-2012 by Laura Legendary.