If we’re “keeping it real” as they say, celebrating Thanksgiving can be a mixed bag. Whether we’re tasked with cooking the whole meal or just having to make small talk with visiting cousins, we’re all managing responsibilities along with the ramped up expectations that just go with the holiday territory.
Our elderly family members might not have the responsibilities we carry this week, but they can sure have anxiety. Maybe it’s their first Thanksgiving in assisted living; or, the first without a spouse or close friend; or they’ve lost more mobility and can’t make the usual trip to see family. Here are some ideas to help you all have a better holiday:
If You’re Hosting Them:
- While it’s understandable that mom might not be able to be much help, remember – that reality could be even more painful for her than it is for you. Ask for help in any small way she can provide it, and take deep breaths if you need to! While you might feel the understandable stress of entertaining a big crowd, you don’t want her to feel like a burden or a guest.
- Enlist discreet, cheerful, and responsible help from family or friends. Dad might need help getting around but could feel reluctant to ask; assign someone to help out who’ll ideally be able to anticipate Dad’s needs and do so without making a big deal of it. Put someone next to him at mealtime who’ll be able to provide any necessary help while keeping the conversation going. Thanksgiving mealtime is prime fodder for reminiscing; make sure that person allows Dad time to do so without it getting too melancholy.
- Your elderly parent or family member may not be able to eat what everyone else is enjoying; so take time to meet their needs, whether that means smaller bites, or less salt or spice.
If You’re Visiting Them:
- If you’re bringing Dad his meal at home, be as relaxed and unhurried as possible. Build in time to visit and talk, and try to dial back the urge to rush back to the party at home. In fact, see if you can even build in a quick assist while you’re there – make his bed, or throw in a load of laundry.
- If he’s in Assisted Living, make sure you know any activities planned for that day and work around them. Too much crammed into one day might feel overwhelming – so do your homework before you go. And if out-of-town relatives want to come along, wonderful! But put your dad’s needs first – if that means limiting the number, simply explain the situation firmly but with gratitude for their good intentions.
If You Can’t See Them at all:
Spending Thanksgiving together as a family isn’t always going to be possible, and that’s OK. There are lots of options for making sure that mom or dad doesn’t spend the day alone. Call their church, synagogue, or local senior center and ask about holiday meals they might be hosting. If getting there is an issue, lots of these organizations have volunteers who will pop in for a holiday visit, bring a meal, even drive your elderly parent to and from their hosted dinner gathering. Don’t be shy about asking – most of these types of organizations staff up on volunteers for holiday time!