Ellie lost Jack, her husband of 60 years, in October of this year. She seemed to be coping okay at first, but now that the holidays are near, it seems like all she wants to do is remain cooped up in her house. Her family is worried about her. They feel like they’re walking an egg shells and don’t know how to help. Unfortunately, this is a pretty common situation among older adults this time of year. They may have lost a spouse, a friend, a child, or someone else very close to them. Here are 5 ways to help your elderly loved one cope with sadness and loss during the holidays.
Approach the holiday season with the realization that this year is not going to look or feel the same as it has in the past. Don’t ignore the sadness of the situation and expect all your old traditions to carry on just like before. Try to pay attention to any activities that your loved one is struggling with so that you can figure out how to best help. For example, are they:
- isolating themselves in their house?
- trying to overcompensate for their grief by working themselves too hard to prepare for the holidays?
- not taking care of themselves when it comes to eating, bathing, keeping up with housework, etc?
- trying to maintain all their old traditions which is causing them to have emotional breakdowns?
Regardless of the holiday season, encourage your loved one to keep up some of their old routines such as meeting friends for coffee each morning or playing in their weekly Bunco game. Help them to maintain other healthy habits like eating right and exercising. Bring over some meals to ensure that their fridge is full or join them for a walk around the track at their local community center.
Start new traditions:
Maybe your parents used to host Christmas at their house every year, but now your father is gone and your mother is struggling. Consider hosting at your house this year. Invite your mom over to watch your kids or grand kids open presents from Santa or take her to your in-laws so she won’t have to do any of the work to prepare for a gathering at her place.
Here are some other ideas for new Holiday traditions
- Spend the day volunteering at a soup kitchen or the local homeless shelter.
- Go to a movie. Movie theaters are open on Christmas!
- Take a family vacation during the holiday season.
- Have a holiday meal catered in.
- Have your holiday meal at a restaurant. No clean up! Some of the major chains that are known for being open on Christmas are Denny’s, IHOP, Village Inn, Perkins, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buca di Beppo, McCormick & Schmick’s, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and Old Country Buffet.
Of course, if your mom wants to continue hosting Christmas at her place then let her. Just figure out ways to help take off some of the burden.
Do something to honor the deceased person:
In light of starting new traditions, consider doing something special to honor those that are missing from the holidays this year. Here are some ideas for ways to honor your loved one.
- Leave an empty chair at the dinner table. If that’s too sad, then invite someone to fill it who otherwise wouldn’t have anywhere to go for the holidays.
- Go around the table sharing stories or saying kind words about them.
- Donate time or money to a cause that they were passionate about.
- Take the time to look through their old photos.
- Plant a tree in their memory.
- Adopt a family in their memory.
- Organize a food or clothing drive in their memory.
- Create a holiday wreath that is made up of their photos. Here’s an example from pinterest.
- Serve their favorite food at your holiday meal.
- Play their favorite music.
- Re-purpose something that belonged to them. Here’s another pinterest example.
- Donate their old clothing. This is especially helpful for a grieving spouse who is having trouble letting go of their loved one’s belongings
Enlist others to help keep your loved one from isolating themselves:
Reach out to friends, family members, former coworkers, church members etc. of your deceased father. Ask them to keep your mother in their thoughts this year. Arrange for them to deliver meals, give your mom a call, or send her a holiday card that lets her know how much her spouse meant to them.
Try not to have any expectations:
Understand that the holidays are going to look different this year. It’s difficult to know exactly how your elderly loved one is going to respond to your attempts to help. Do your best to avoid putting any extra stress on them or on yourself to make the holidays perfect this year. Try to just relax, take some time to reminisce, and figure out the best way to honor the person that you’ve lost and the person that’s still right in front of you.