When I was 5 or 6 years old, my great uncle gave me a doll for Christmas. I think it was the only present he ever gave me. I remember thinking, “Wow! A present from Uncle Herbert!” Later on my mom made a point to tell me how special it was because he didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend, and he wanted me to have it. Confession: it took a couple of decades for me to fully grasp the meaning of my mother’s words.
Holidays can be physically taxing as well as financially distressing on the fixed incomes of our seniors, but we can help!
The holidays are certainly more fun when we stay physically healthy. If our senior loved ones have traveled to see us, for all that is wonderful and good, let them rest when they first arrive! Offer them a sit-down, a little time in front of the TV, and a nap! If they don’t need one, they’ll tell you. They may have more energy than you, but it is considerate to offer. Keep some bottled water, healthy snacks handy for any dietary restrictions, and offer opportunities for exercise both indoors and out depending on the climate. Most seniors already do not overindulge with meals and are careful with alcohol and medications, but as a reminder, if your loved one needs assistance monitoring either of those, that is something to be aware of.
Now that I’m older, I appreciate breaks more than ever—coffee, tea, snacks—any kind of break will be appreciated as long as they are frequent. If you are out sight-seeing, or shopping, set the pace to include these, and both of you will appreciate your time together so much more.
If your family’s tradition has always been that a senior loved one prepares the holiday meal and you are worried it will be a burden, suggest another family member do that this year while the senior prepares a signature dish. If that is an absolute “NO!” suggest he or she allow everyone to bring side dishes to complement the signature main dishes. You may think that you’re doing her a favor by trying to do it all yourself, but you may actually be excluding your loved one, so always include them in the planning and preparations. Regardless of who cooks, though, the younger family members should always volunteer to clean up! In our family we have a rule that whoever doesn’t cook, cleans. It’s amazing how many cooks we have!
If you are hosting, remember to make your home age-friendly. Scan your floors for any rugs that may need to be picked up or moved to avoid causing a fall. Move any furniture to accommodate canes, walkers, or wheelchairs. If your senior is an overnight guest, provide the bedroom on the first floor, or if that’s not possible, offer a room close to a bathroom for ease within the night. Nightlights in the hallways and bathrooms are useful to guide them in the dark, too! My daughter leaves a bottle of water on the bedside table so that her guests don’t have to return to the kitchen to take bedtime medications.
Staying physically healthy can be impacted by stress, too, and finances certainly contribute to that. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my youth of not fully understanding the impact of a fixed income in retirement.
One option to show more sensitivity to the senior budget is to suggest that if they have heirlooms they are no longer using or are wanting to hand down, use the holidays as a time to do that along with a hand-written note describing the history. Of course, it is important to ensure the family member wants the heirloom prior to gifting them with it! Ask them to tell a story about the heirloom as the family member opens the gift. Everyone enjoys the story! You may even wish to video the story as it is told!
It may take some planning, but get together and perform a group project in which the crafts become the gifts. It can be fun for all ages, and makes memories at the same time! You may consider agreeing to donate to a charity instead of buying gifts; one of my favorites is to offer coupons for things like meal preparation, computer repair, sewing, home repair, or babysitting. When I was 20, I asked my grandmother to make me her peanut butter fudge as my gift. She was absolutely thrilled to do that and I assure you, I was more than thrilled to get it, as was everyone around who stole pieces of it! One thing you can do is ask your family member to teach you to make their famous dishes as a gift. You purchase the groceries, they write down the recipe while you both prepare, take a photo together with the finished masterpiece; bon appetit! The hand-written recipe is your treasure forever, the photo and memories are both your gifts.
Another idea is for each family member to bring a gift to add to a large gift bag to be handed out later. Again, it may take some planning, but larger families can draw names or buy only for the children under a certain age. Take a stack of cloth napkins and write some “unique to your” family sayings on them! There are so many creative ways to design the holiday gift-giving that can reduce the overall stress and make the experience enjoyable for everyone.
I can still remember what the doll looked like, and my uncle’s smile as he watched me admiring her. Remember, no matter what the gift, whether it’s time or treasure, they want you to have it, and that makes it priceless.