My mother is a Senior Case Manager for the Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services Board/Area Agency on Aging in Culpeper, Virginia. She works with seniors to get them services they need, like hot meals, transportation to their appointments or fixing their leaky roof. Her article was recently published in The Voice of Experience, the Board's newspaper. I'm posting it below.
Christmas All Year?
By Toni Browning
As the holidays approach we begin to get the spirit of giving and sharing. We find ways to help the less fortunate; we seek causes to donate to, we give food to the food bank, we may belong to an organization that adopts a family for the holidays. Our children dress up as angels and the school choir they belong to sing carols in the halls of nursing homes or serenade their elderly neighbors. And of course if our elderly Mom or Dad, Aunt Susie or Uncle Bob live far away, we make plans for the yearly holiday trip.
The holiday season for many of us is a happy time, a time of excitement and joy and a time we want to do some selfless act of caring. But what happens after we’ve visited our relatives, helped the elderly neighbor trim the tree, donated all the canned good that have been unused in our pantry all year, provided Thanksgiving dinner or gave gloves to the less fortunate? Is that it? Do we wait until next year so we can get that feeling of joy and giving again?
Let me tell you a story. I used to work in a nursing home in Warrenton. Around Christmas many of the schools wanted to have their classes come to visit the residents, sing carols and give small drawings or presents to the seniors. Other organizations also wanted time to visit with the seniors during the holidays. The activities director who coordinated these events could not accommodate all the groups, clubs and schools that wanted to participate. She explained politely to several of the schools/organizations that the nursing home schedule was full and would it be possible for them to make a visit in January or February? Every one of them refused. A few were indignant that they couldn’t be accommodated. Another caller actually said, “What good would that do us?”
Although we laughed about this comment it was a sad commentary on our times. It is regretful that the spirit of giving does not last throughout the year, that when a person volunteers to help an elderly person put up Christmas lights outside his house, or decorate a tree for their aunt or uncle he or she doesn’t remember to come back a month later to take them down. It is heartbreaking when family members visit their mother or father and do not notice that he/she is depressed or mourning the loss of a good friend who died recently. Often the visiting family act as if nothing is amiss and wave “see you next year,” as they drive happily away, relieved that the visit is over and that they won’t have to do that again until next year.
For some the holiday season does not bring sentiments of joy and celebration. Many of the elderly are going through major life changes, or have health issues. They could be struggling to make ends meet but feel obligated to buy presents. These are situations that need more time to be resolved that a brief holiday visit.
Christmas is a time of giving but why does it have to stop January first? Spread out your good works during the other eleven months. Stop in on a regular basis to see a senior who is living alone. Volunteer at a food bank or nursing home a few months out of the year. Adopt a family in April or July. Sing or dance at the nursing homes in January or May. When you go shopping pick up an extra item for the food bank. Drive an elderly woman to get her hair done. Keep in touch with your relatives and notice any changes in their behavior, their mood or their lack of interest in things that use to make them happy. These are the little acts of caring that make a difference.
I am in no way criticizing all of the good and charitable works done during the holidays. They are generous and most times heart felt. But the let-down many seniors feel after their family drives away, or when they look out the window in June with their Christmas tree lights still winking off and on hoping the neighbor will return, can be devastating.
Small acts of kindness can make a tremendous difference in the lives of some of our seniors; please find the time to accomplish a few of them all through the year.