The holiday season is arriving. For most of us as we age, it can be a time of change, good, bad, or indifferent. So how do we wrap ourselves around the notion of change when we feel a pull towards “the way things used to be?”
Holidays and the traditions that surround them do not disappear as we age. In fact, their meaningfulness may increase. Can we create stories centered on nostalgia? Our accumulated memories are all unique but there are many similar themes behind the memories of holidays.
I love capturing some of the holiday spirit through the movies that become traditional viewing. Movies like Christmas Story, although made in 1983, takes place in the 1940s and is a great nostalgia story. Nine-year-old Ralphie is obsessed with a Red Ryder BB rifle. It is all he can think of. His request for the gift is quickly discouraged first by his mother with the comment, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
At a very early age, every Santa List for me started with “puppy.” I envisioned waking up Christmas morning and finding a puppy under the tree. Each year I was certain my request would be granted. I never gave up asking until I was fifteen and permitted to find a puppy and purchase on my own – which happened during the summer.
A puppy for children during a busy holiday season is probably the worst idea in retrospect, but it was an idea I could never let go of – like Ralphie in Christmas Story.
Undoubtedly, many people can recall that special gift they asked for as a child and maybe received or did not receive. “The game Mousetrap,” answers a co-worker. “I never got it and then when I became a mother I decided I was buying it for my own kids. There are hundreds of pieces to the game. I realized immediately why my very meticulous mother never saw that wish granted!”
While growing up one thing we always found in our stocking was an orange. It was not that we went without the fruit at other times. For my father it was the one and only gift he could remember receiving, having been a child during difficult economic times.
I came to appreciate the simplicity of an orange in my stocking. It came with his stories of growing up poor on a farm with no sign of regret on his part. It was my father’s Christmas memories that he shared. I continued the tradition in my own family and retold his stories. I have not met an orange that I have not appreciated. It is because of the significance behind the gift of an orange.
We cannot replicate what once was. Sometimes that feels painful during this time of year. For our elders it can be particularly difficult. They may want to set the holiday season aside. Maybe they feel like a burden and downplay the significance of their inclusion. We know how part of healthy aging is having social connections to family, friends, and the community we live in.
As caregivers, loved ones, or friends, it is our responsibility to keep our elders connected. It can be a simple gesture; sharing a memory, or time or a phone call or a card. Even for those with dementia there might be a memory from one’s lifetime that is connected to the holiday season. Can it be resurrected with an old photograph of a holiday past or watching one of those classic holiday movies?
My last Christmas with my mother was horribly sad for me, as she was in a long-term care facility and not well. However, despite that, she looked forward to Christmas and wanted to participate in some way. Her granddaughter kindly offered to buy stockings and small gifts for each of the adult children. My mother paid for the expense. She was both grateful to her granddaughter and warmed to have been involved. It was the last gesture of giving that she was able to participate in. It is yet another addition to my many memories of love and the holiday season.
If we can visit that place of nostalgia and connect with our elders, I think it will turn out that we create moments of lasting impressions. All these small gestures add up big. It is a look into what really matters in life.
Your friends at North Shore Elder Services wish everyone a joyous holiday season.
There are many volunteer opportunities available at North Shore Elder Services. If you would like to be involved with elders living in our communities, check our website at https://nselder.org/about-our-volunteers-2/ or call 978-624-2288.