Have you ever thought about what gives you purpose? What makes it worth getting out of bed in the morning? What gives you satisfaction at the end of the day? Which moments in your day do you look back on and treasure, because of something significant?
Purpose is key for all of us. There may not be "aha" moments every day, but at some point, we need to feel that what we are doing is making a difference, contributing to the life of others or helping in some way.
This is truer than ever as we age. When elders need more care and are less able to "do," it's easy for them to feel that they have no purpose. No reason to be around. They don't want a constant diet of entertainment, they want to feel they have something to give. This is true no matter where they are in the ageing process.
7. Bring purpose to Christmas preparations
If you are keeping things simple and slowing the pace this Christmas as has already been suggested, there are many ways to do this. Look at your elder and ask, "What do they enjoy doing?" This answer may be different from last year or even six months ago. The next question is "What are they still able to do?" And finally, "What changes could I make in how we do things that might make the impossible possible?"
Here are a few examples:
Few of us send Christmas cards any more, but for the last generation, this was an important ritual. I remember my mother not only sent cards but wrote a personalized note in each one. She disdained Christmas letters even when some of her cards were sent Christmas eve. (Her daughters both send Christmas letters, and I am a big fan of the email variety!) If your loved one treasures Christmas cards and being able to send them, what can you do to make this happen?
- one daughter buys and addresses all the cards, but her mother is able to sign her name to them.
- "With Christmas cards, my mum still wanted to send them out, so I got her to write her name on a piece of paper. I then scanned, resized and copied them and printed them out onto computer labels. Mum helped me stick in a few of the labels so she felt involved, and I wrote the recipient's name at the top and did the envelopes. We did about 25 cards for her that year, and she would never have been able to write her name more than once."1
What about shopping? Many people enjoy giving, and there may be ways you can customize the experience to make it possible. Get a transport wheelchair (the foldable kind) to make the trip easier. Choose a weekday when the mall is likely to be less crowded. Scan the fliers together another day and make your list, and make sure to plan on only a few purchases per trip. One trip may be enough for some elders, with you doing the rest of the shopping on your own.
Baking? Look together for favourite recipes and decide what you are going to make. Like other activities, don't think ambitiously. The experience is the important ingredient.
Be creative. There are many opportunities to bring purpose to Christmas.
8. Try something new
To this point, we've focused on the familiar, the traditional and what your elder always enjoyed. That's valid, but there's no saying something completely different won't bring delight.
After my mom died, my dad floundered for several years, trying to find his way without her. One of our Christmas traditions with my kids was to make a gingerbread house--the more candy the better. One year, on a whim, I invited my dad to come over on the night this creation was being constructed. My straight-laced, retired-pharmacist dad blew me away with how he entered into the fun, carefully choosing which candy would look best on the roof and which should go in his mouth. I have pictures, and they show the joy on everyone's faces. After that first time, it became part of the tradition that Bubba helped with the gingerbread house.
There are no boundaries or rules. Using your creativity and ingenuity, create a Christmas memory!
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