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Spending time with people that are perceived as different than us can be difficult. We oftentimes feel as if we have nothing in common with them and so we feel awkward and uncomfortable; we don’t want to waste our time and energies being there.
Throughout the holiday season as you spend time with older family and friends, be prepared for the unexpected in regard to behavior and interactions based on how life and age affect us. It’s ALWAYS hard for us to be faced with seeing and interacting with decline in our loved ones. Our responses to the decline in our loved ones greatly impacts the way our children interact with them also. It’s our job to help them have a POSITIVE perception of aging, and of their elders. Our kids will mirror how we respond. This is an excellent opportunity to set the standard for their behavior with the elderly (they too will one day become elderly - as unimaginable as that may seem). This is crucial as these little children will be the ones responding to us when we are elderly (yes, you too will one day grow old)! Older adults need the life/livelihood of kids and teens just as the lives of youngsters are enhanced by interactions with their seniors. Help them enjoy these holiday visits by preempting some of the discomfort that they may feel.
Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been. Mark Twain
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...the HOLIDAYS. A word that stirs up various emotions about family, food, and fun. Spending time with family can be both joyous and heart-wrenching. It’s often because we position ourselves to be “schooled” in some way, shape or form. It’s called the School of Life and the class is usually titled ‘How You Have Grown (or Not) from the Last Encounter with Family.’
Regardless of the interactions, how are you going to be the best version of you that allows for maintaining good boundaries, but allows for you to show your care and support for each of the family and friends that you are gifted to spend time with. I love the lyrics from the Michael Jackson song “Man In The Mirror”, ‘If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.’ May you appreciate and release thanksgiving for the friends and family you have around you at this season.
Make the choice to move into this holiday season with ‘Eyes Wide Open’. I encourage you to take the time to be the silent observer and check out what’s going on around you with your family and friends.
There will be a plethora of little ways you can make your world, and someone else’s, a better place. Time is a gift that you can give to both yourself and to another person, your undivided attention. Take a few moments to engage in conversation to listen, support and encourage someone around you. (Note, I did not say enslave yourself to someone for a 45 minute monologue of their woes. Gracefully extract yourself after (10 minutes) and let them know you appreciated getting a chance to connect with them.) Give yourself the gift of time to sit, breathe deeply, nap, play in a way that brings you refreshment.
As the relatives come out, choose awareness and assess how each person has changed from the last time you were with them… Be willing to ask yourself the harder questions: How is Aunt Sally is doing? What about my own parents; How are MY PARENTS doing? Dad’s been slowing down lately, do I really want to address his aging issues? If I don’t am I hiding my head in the sand and choosing to be in denial of the class we all have to take in the School of Life that most of us hate? Aging is inevitable and so is change?
This season, don’t approach the holidays with your eyes wide shut. Family get-togethers are the ideal opportunity to open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to the changes in the abilities of your senior relatives. They need you to see what they can’t so that they can walk through life’s changes maintaining a feeling of safety, support and peace of mind.
Click here to download our Checklist to Assess Daily Living Changes and move into the holidays with your ‘Eyes Wide Open’.
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Something has shifted with my dad. Maybe it’s the change in medication or perhaps he’s just gotten used to his “new normal” and accepted the vascular dementia and his declining health. Whatever the reason, the shift is good. He and I both look forward to our Wednesdays together. It’s a routine our family established almost two years ago, after dad had a stroke, to give my parents a break from each other for the day. The demands of full-time care-giving and loss of independence has been an adjustment for all of us. And now, dad is more expressive about it.
The Shift that I’m referring to is most obvious in our communication. Dad is chattier now and initiating conversation, to the point of sharing secrets. Since the dementia affects random parts of his short-term memory, most of our time is spent reminiscing. Two weeks ago, he surprised me by telling the stories I had not heard, the stories that parents have from their teenage years that they don’t generally share with their kids. Just as he was getting to the good part, my mom walked in. He turned to me and quietly said, “to be continued…”.
I must admit I was disappointed because he might not remember the story the following week. I was delighted when he did. The following week, I prompted him about the previous conversation and he picked up where we left off. Then he asked to hear my stories. What story do I tell? He’s known me my entire life and since I’m a “rule-follower”, I don’t have anything interesting to offer back. Not true. The reality is, most of us don’t really know each other. We spend the majority of our time being busy in the midst of each other’s presence but how often do we really share what we’re thinking and feeling? It’s different with a senior.
Seniors, in general, have much more time on their hands, they genuinely enjoy sharing stories (and perhaps secrets!), and they did not grow up in an electronic society where information moves so quickly. They are less concerned about “doing” and more focused on “being”. Slowing down and spending a few hours with an elderly person will, in most cases, be a rich blessing to you both. Spending time with them on a regular basis will change your life in positive ways you can’t yet understand.