Tradition is important as we age — and especially around the holidays. As a crucial aspect of culture, traditions represent the foundation of our families and society. They give us a sense of history that helps define who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going, as a family, a culture, a society, a generation, a nation, and a planet.
How can you maintain cherished family traditions, while adapting to the changing needs of seniors who may no longer be able to host the holiday festivities, or even to participate as they once did?
Here are some ideas:
- Bring the holiday to your loved one. If your family member has moved into a senior living community such as The Kensington Falls Church, rather than taking them out of the environment to which they’ve become accustomed for a holiday gathering elsewhere, bring the festivities to them. This is an especially good idea if the senior would not be able to attend the holiday celebration otherwise.
When one daughter’s beloved mother was in short-term rehab over a holiday, too medically fragile to be moved, the family rallied and brought the feast to her.
They rented a conference room at the rehab center and carried in all the delicious traditional family dishes — along with fine china, and even fresh flowers. Their mother was delighted, and everyone agreed that shifting perspective enabled them to enjoy one of their best holidays ever.
Here at The Kensington Falls Church, we offer an exceptional resource for just such a family gathering: Famille at The Kensington, a café where everyone is welcome. The most important element of holiday gatherings is togetherness, a timeless tradition. “Too many of the elderly do not have the family or the communal attachments necessary to feel valued,” says Sherwin Nuland, MD, author of The Art of Aging: A Doctor’s Prescription for Well-Being among many other noteworthy books. At The Kensington, our residents also attend our holiday celebration. Their families get a welcoming invitation, so everyone can celebrate together.
- Reimagine your loved one’s role in holiday preparations. If arthritis, memory loss, or some other condition is affecting a senior’s ability to carry out his or her usual holiday traditions, include them in a related activity. If mom used to bake the best rolls in the county but can no longer follow a recipe, ask if she’d like to flour the baking sheets or decorate the cookies once they’re out of the oven.
Perhaps you and she can share stories of past holiday meals, with you prompting her to tell what she loved most, and what she’s looking forward to this year, while you handle the baking. Talking about family members will also prime her for their arrival.
Once the grandchildren arrive, there are so many other ways to spend special time with grandma, maintaining your existing traditions while devising new ones that suit who she is now.
- Explore what a specific tradition means for them. One 70-year-old woman who teaches part-time, and thrives on seeing her young grandchildren blossom, has been a lifelong reader; reading literature was something of a family tradition. Yet she recently told a younger acquaintance, “I only want to read the classics now that time is short.”
This seemed a perplexing statement in an era when life expectancy for women exceeds 81 years, and there are more U.S. centenarians than ever before in history. This woman says she is in good health, so she might easily live another 20 years or more.
But she then revealed that both her parents had dementia — her mother with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at just 59 — and both had died by their mid-seventies. So her reality is different that health statistics predict. She said, “I might only have four or five good years left.”
Reality is as individual as our heritage, traditions, and DNA. Knowing what matters most as we age makes all the difference. If someone is aware that their life might change dramatically in the short-term, by all means, honor what a cherished tradition means to them.
- Is there a favorite food that evokes their childhood? Have you made this food or seasonal drink, such as eggnog or mulled cider?
- Are there holiday ornaments that have been passed down through the generations? Bring a small tabletop tree to The Kensington, along with these cherished family heirlooms.
- How about creating a playlist on an iPod or other device with their favorite holiday songs?
- What holiday movie classics are a part of your family tradition? You can watch White Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street as a family. Or perhaps you can buy or rent these time-honored favorites so your loved one can enjoy them later on as well.
Life Enrichment Can Create New Traditions with Seniors
At The Kensington Falls Church, our full-time Life Enrichment team works tirelessly to create diverse, interesting, participatory activities to engage and entertain our residents, particularly during the holiday season.
This month, for instance, our residents will enjoy regular restaurant outings, a shopping visit to Nordstrom Rack, a Hanukkah reading, and New Year’s Eve opera! And this is just a taste of the full flavor of activities we provide at holiday time, as well as throughout the year.
Whether it’s music, cooking, or a penchant for golf or yoga, we provide ongoing opportunities for those who live here to create new traditions they can share with those they love.
Here’s the grateful testimonial one daughter shared:
“Moving my father to The Kensington is the best decision we ever made. I felt like Goldilocks when I looked at other living facilities. Every place I visited was ‘too much’ or ‘not enough,’ but when I walked into The Kensington, it felt ‘just right.’
The staff is skilled and compassionate, and they treat everyone like family. The decor makes it feel like a hotel or an upscale apartment community. The food is excellent. My family likes The Kensington so much that my cousin has even started volunteering there for her high school community service project.
I’m decades away from retirement, but I’m already thinking about how I can move to The Kensington.”