I've updated the following post on Simplifying the Holidays for Your aging Parent. The original ran in 2010.
Simplify. Simplify. Those words of Henry David Thoreau echo in my mind during the holidays, especially when I think about our aging parents. If I have one piece of advice I've gleaned over the years, it's this: Don't let your parents' medical conditions steal your family's holiday joy. The little girl or boy inside your parent is still very much alive, and that inner child can appreciate the goodwill these special days offer. The key, though, is more with less. More joy for all of you, including your aging parent, with less work. More wonder with less stress. More love with less money. But how does that all happen, given your limits on time, energy and funds?
First, you may want to start a conversation with your parent. Ask him or her, "What is MOST important to you during the holidays?" Just having the discussion honors your parent and will enlighten you. Don’t be surprised he or she starts traveling down memory lane, sharing childhood memories of a Christmas stocking filled with an orange, a bright red ball, a candy cane, and a new pair of socks. Oh yes, and a new pair of roller skates? That’s half the fun of this conversation.
Together, when you’ve finished the “What HAS to be part of the holiday season?” discussion, narrow the list of favorites to a few activities that can be done with help from you and your family.
My dad, a retired pastor, loved writing family Christmas letters. When he moved to a nursing home with my mom, he wanted to continue his favorite tradition. Parkinson's had robbed him of his ability to write. Fortunately, my younger brother Jim came to the rescue. Together they discussed the contents. Jim wrote and edited the letter, with Daddy’s approval. Later Jim's wife and kids were enlisted to type, photocopy, address envelopes and take them to the post office. For Daddy, those letters were the key to the holidays, allowing him to relax and enjoy the season.
Your parent's list of favorite things will be unique. In the retirement community where I worked until recently, several residents of German descent make traditional filled cookies every year. I remember well George’s painstaking efforts to measure the ingredients, bake the cookies, and fill them, standing for hours, despite back pain. I also remember the smile on his face when others commented on his creation. It was a community effort: his adult children provided ingredients. His neighbors in the community complimented him on his good work. Others in the community had their own favorite traditions, including attending “The Nutcracker” as a group. Still others enjoyed Christmas caroling for the nearby nursing homes, senior apartments and an architectural firm!
Even if your parent is homebound, he or she may enjoy decorations, holiday music, movies and family recipes. Keep it simple.
The next post focuses on specific ways to simplify holiday traditions with your aging parent.