Mom always made the holidays warm and special. She spent hours baking yummy cookies, trimming the tree, and long nights carefully wrapping each present so you wouldn’t see. She yearned for the excitement in your eyes when you received your first bike, the doll you wanted, and each gift that she had spent months choosing specifically for you.
This is an image of Mom that may be long forgotten. Her soft blonde/brown hair has been replaced with gray curls. That stove she used to stand in front of to prepare dinner each day is dusty from disuse. Her perfect suits have been given to thrift stores and replaced with comfortable stretch clothes. She no longer has the energy to wrap hundreds of presents or address cards to friends and family, and if there are cookies they come from a box.
Although Mom has gotten older, more forgetful, and needs more personal care, it does not mean that she has forgotten the pleasure of the Holiday Season. She may not have the energy for every activity, but here are some ways to help Mom feel involved with the holidays.
- Keep things simple. For the aging generation, rushing from party to party is not always a possibility. Health concerns may be an issue, but, for many, this is just exhausting. If the family always gathers at one major party, take her to that one. Stay with her throughout the event, talk with her, let her tell stories. Although Mom’s memory may not be what it used to be, and although she may not even seem highly engaged in the event, she will appreciate that she was not treated like a piece of furniture.
- Help her decorate. It may be getting harder for Mom to put out every decoration, and, let’s face it, no one likes the idea of her standing on a chair, alone, trying to put the star on top of the tree. Set up a day to go over to her place and decorate it. A small, tabletop tree may be a better replacement for the 7 foot one you chopped down in the woods behind the house you grew up in. Bring out the favorite ornaments: Our first Christmas, Baby’s first, that strange thing Aunt Mildred made in 1940 (we all know we have one of those, but we love them). Play her favorite music while you decorate and let her tell you where to put everything. Having her favorite things out on display will make her feel closer to those precious memories of holidays past.
- Bring dinner to her. If Mom always played hostess, she will love having the chance to take out her fine china and table linens, especially if she does not have to spend the hours cooking the goose with all the trimmings. If you live close enough, do all the preparations ahead of time. Then, giving yourself enough time before dinner is scheduled, bring it over to her house. Let her help you set the table by having her fold the napkins or other small tasks that will not wear her out. She will love seeing her happy family gathered around her table once again.
- Make traditional foods. If your family always had a certain food at the holidays, that you have since dropped for a different option, go back to the former. For instance, if your family has always had tourtiere pie (a popular French Canadian meat and potato pie served during the holidays) but you are now a vegetarian, make the pie for those who still desire it. Find alternatives if there is a reason for not using the old family recipe. Replace meat with vegetarian grounds, limit the salt, or use yogurt butter instead of salted cream butter. Most likely no one will notice the difference, and everyone, especially Mom, will love the tradition being restored.
- Take her shopping. Anyone who has taken an aging parent to the store knows that this may be a challenge. It takes longer to park and get into the store, they want to look at each item, price it out, etc. We are familiar with the complaints of “$10 for this?! In my day you could buy three of these for a buck!” Despite these remarks, Mom loves to shop. She does not want to burden you constantly to go shopping, but that desire does not disappear after a certain age. She likes seeing things that remind her of certain people, and buying those things for them. Mom likes to personalize her gifts still. Set up a day when the stores may not be overly crowded. Take her to one that has a lot of products at an affordable price, such as a department store. Make sure the store is easily accessible, has carts that she can lean on or an electronic chair that she can drive around in so that she has the energy to spend a lot of time there. Ask the customer service representative if they offer gift wrapping, that way Mom does not still have that task around of her.
- Take Mom to see the lights. Everyone loves turning on a radio station that is playing carols and driving around town to look at the lights. This is a fun, low key experience. Even if Mom drives still, she may not like driving at night and may not even be able to pay attention to the beauty of the lights while focusing on the road. Let her sit in the passenger’s seat and stop at each decorated house. This way you and Mom can take in the beauty. Talk about favorite winter experiences, sing along with familiar songs. This will make a memory that you are sure to never forget.
- Open presents with her. As previously mentioned, Mom loved to watch you open presents, Mom still loves to watch you open presents. Bring her to your house before anyone starts opening gifts. Sit her in a comfortable chair where she can see everyone. Have each person open their gifts one at a time, so that Mom can really take in their expressions.
- Give sensible gifts. Although fine jewelry and collectable knickknacks were once presents Mom adored, she may not have opportunities to wear pearls and her space may be too limited for figurines. Mom will, however, love new clothes, warm bathrobes, slippers that go over her whole foot, and new bedding. If Mom is still living in her own home, she may like housecleaning services, lawn care, or other services that you know she is in need of but cannot afford. Remember the adage: It’s the thought that counts. Mom will feel so good knowing that you thought about her and spent the time to get her a gift.
- Take her to concerts. A lot of churches, school groups, and businesses offer free holiday concerts. These are easy activities for Mom to enjoy because all she has to do is sit and listen. If Mom has trouble hearing or seeing, talk to the venue beforehand and reserve a seat near the front where she may have an easier time to hear and see. Nowadays most public concerts are casual so Mom does not have to spend hours prepping. Make sure, however, that the venue takes place indoors, so that Mom does not get too cold.
- Spend time with her. Look at photo albums, share stories, give her hugs. Even if Mom does not remember every detail, she will love that you do. It will be a joy for her to see the photographs from your youth. Although her recent memories are not of grand trips to Paris, the new ones you create with her will be just as important as those fond ones from her past.