Make 'room in the inn' for all seniors

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Make 'room in the inn' for all seniors

Keeping the Christmas spirit alive

E Anthony
Allen

Friday, December 18, 2020

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Christmas is a time of celebration of goodwill amidst human struggle. We remember the birth of Christ, the saviour, as God himself coming to be among us to bring love and healing empowerment in the middle of all the suffering and inhumanity that we all experience. This brings joy and hope.

Celebration and relationships

In our relationship with God we worship the Christ child, give thanks to God. In our relationship with one another, we follow the example of God's giving by sharing gifts to express our mutual appreciation and love of others.

Just as the “goodwill” of Christ's coming is for all men and women, so our celebrations need to be inclusive of people of all ages and walks of life. Unfortunately, various realities tend to exclude the elderly, so that they 'have no room in the inn', so to speak. Christmas can become a sad time for seniors. It is when they most feel left out.

Too many seniors have financial challenges due to retirement or their dependence on family members or charities. They have difficult priorities to meet such as medication costs. In addition, too many elderly people feel isolated. Several live either by themselves, with a caregiver only, or in a nursing home. Though some dwell with their families they can still feel left out. We all can slow down physically with age, and eventually find it difficult to keep up with younger people as well as community and church activities. Hence, we can end up being “shut in”. Many of the relatives and friends of older seniors have passed on. As well, many of their living family members have migrated.

The restrictions caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic is a double isolation. In general, the elderly have of a lowered resistance to infections. They are very vulnerable due to chronic diseases that they commonly have. This includes hypertension, diabetes, heart conditions, and strokes. Because of these factors, seniors are required to stay at home, except for going out once a day for the essentials of life. Worse, too, that their relatives abroad can't visit due to travel restrictions.

It is sad that in too many families, communities and churches, seniors who are “out of sight” are also “out of mind”. So one is neglected physically, financially, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. Isolated and neglected seniors can become bored and lack stimulation. Thus, with the commercialisation of the season of Christmas producing an expectation of fanciness and “bling” in giving and receiving presents and in entertaining others,the elderly can end up having a lack of sense of purpose and usefulness. This can cause depression.

There is the danger of ignoring the powerful potential of older people. In the business of a commercialised Christmas we often forget the fact that being a senior citizen does not automatically mean illness and disabilities, such as stroke, blindness, deafness and fragility. There is such a thing as healthy aging. Thus, many elders can still get around on their own and function reasonably independently. Several seniors have great education, work experience, and life wisdom that can liven up any Christmas celebration. They can even be at the centre of organising for family and friends. Despite possible challenges, we can't put all seniors in one basket. We need also to understand and affirm the uniqueness and potential of each person.

How to keep the Christmas Spirit alive

Given the challenging experiences of seniors, in general, and the crisis of the 2020 pandemic, we need to make a special effort this year to “keep the spirit alive” by cheering our seniors at this Christmastime.

There is a lot that families, friends, churches, and communities can do. These are some suggestions:

1) Keep in constant contact. Relatives, friends and neighbours can work in groups to maintain constant contact with seniors for protection and celebration. Use the phone to check up on needs and bring greetings. Involve them in WhatsApp groups. Visit them. Mask up and keep social distancing by staying outside an open window or front door, if necessary.

2. Have “mobile” and virtual celebrations. Drop off Christmas cards, healthy meals and gifts. Have Christmas dinner by Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp video. Use even landlines to talk. Sing carols together during visits or over the internet. Involve overseas relatives and friends online.

Share prayer and thanksgiving time together. Seniors have a lot of spiritual inspiration to give.

Play group or table games together, such as Zoom Dominoes.

Have a concert and dance display time. Watch family videos and movies together.

Let confined seniors have access to the streaming of Christmas services or special cultural performances.

3) Have a 'Seniors on Stage' time. This can be in-person or online. Let them perform poetry and songs, give jokes, ask riddles, and share “old time” stories. They can share memories of life events and how Christmas used to be. Grandchildren can join them in “sing-along time”.

4) Elderly people can use their talents to make gifts. This can include cakes, puddings, backyard garden produce, embroidery, cards, paintings, and photographs. Seniors can be helped to contribute to special Christmas charities.

5) Remember those who mourn. At Christmas, many seniors remember their several lost loved ones. It can end up being a time to mourn rather than to be happy This is even more reason for regular supportive contact, comforting companionship, and enjoyable activities with family and surviving old friends. We need to listen to feelings and empathize.

6. Involve seniors with Christmas planning. Do this whether they live in our homes or not. Involve the grandchildren as well. Many of us older ones remember going to Granny in the country as a highlight of the year. Self-help groups such as senior citizens' clubs and the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons are powerful means of involving the elderly in helping one another and being a resource for others at Christmas. Contact them.

Sometimes unresolved family conflicts involving seniors can make Christmas a difficult time. Seek the help of the Christ child in having times of forgiveness and peacemaking. At best, call a truce and celebrate.

At Christmas, we give thanks to God, we celebrate Christ's coming to earth to bring goodwill in our struggles. While we share this love with each other in our relationships, let us ensure that there is room in the inn for all seniors. Let us embrace them with connection, protection, and empowerment. It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to keep the Christmas spirit alive and bring cheer to our seniors.

Dr E Anthony Allen is a psychiatrist and consultant in whole person wellness.


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