Even youngers find the holidays strewn with emotional landmines & social booby traps. It can be infinitely worse for oldsters elders ancients.
The older we get, the more things can trigger holiday depression. The best way to deal with them is to look them straight in the eye.
There was no way Mom was NOT going to miss Dad intensely over the stretch from Thanksgiving through the New Year. Instead of avoiding any mention of her O Best Beloved, we’d talk about their favorite moments together, from the 1930s Thanksgiving dinner she made completely using a fireplace rotisserie because they didn’t have a working oven to making paper ornaments for the tree when Peter was three so he could touch them to meeting Dad at the New Year’s Eve party she threw for Aunt Betty.
Thoughts bring presence & it helped Mom stay on even keel to talk about loved ones who were long gone or lived far away. She lived with us, but some version of most of these can be done with someone living over the river & through the woods:
We made a party out of decorating the tree. Every year, she’d tell John the stories behind the Lockhart ornaments & loved hearing from him the tales behind the Murphy decorations. For years, we had two trees – what John described as the “museum quality” Lockhart tree in the living room, the more boisterous Murphy tree in the den – until we FINALLY, a couple years before Mom was reunited with her O Best Beloved, we combined both into the one, living room tree.
I made sure we got plenty of great catalogues for armchair shopping. Favorites included Signals, LL Bean, Vermont Country Store, Lands End, Green Tiger Press & Current. She’d settle down with a cuppa, a plate of cookies & shop til she dropped – all without leaving the comfort of her big cozy chair!
There was always a supply of stamps on hand for her Christmas cards, stationery for her holiday letters & plenty of working pens. And Scotch Tape!
Another party for wrapping presents!
John & I helped Mom get out to see friends & to have them in, if need be, happily fetching them.
We reminded her to set up time on the phone with Ellen in Texas & Elsa in Florida, Peggy in Missouri & folks all over, rather than leaving it up to chance.
Because we’d kept past cards from friends & family, we could look at signatures of folks who’d been gone for years, sparking memories & smiles. Still do!
Mom & I would talk about the little card that Dad gave her with a present on their first Christmas – So little a thing to express all the strengths that are mine through your love & affectionate understanding ~ Pete. A card I found among her things that now holds a yearlong place of honor in The Retreat.
On the night of the Glencairn Sing, we’d listen to a recording of the music & talk about long-ago traditions, like all the Raymond & Mildred’s granddaughters lighting candles throughout the Great Hall, or all the years the three Lockhart Ladies (Mom Mim moi) had the fun of bringing Marguerite de Angeli, leaving at intermission & stopping off for cocktails – with Marguerite! – on the drive back to her Philadelphia Parkway abode.
We shared a holiday reading from the Christmas story every day, which often triggered more talk of memories.
There was always plenty of special treats in the house, in case friends & family stopped by.
The Lockhart collection of Christmas books was put in a place of honor, near her armchair.
We’d attend the simpler, shorter children’s tableaux instead of the magnificent presentation at the cathedral. The children’s tableaux always undid Mom with its innocence.
We watched LOTS of Christmas specials. John & I made sure we had video tapes of her favorite holiday movies.
The house was always filled with music, either WFLN (classical music radio) or recordings.
When John & I went out without her, we’d regale her with tales of our adventures on returning home.
We always let my brothers & sister know they were welcome to spend part or all of Christmas with us.
And we let Mom know that we understood if a tender heart moment dipped into sadness. But sorrow has been part of our family celebration since 1959, the Christmas after Ian died. I believe that letting herself feel, respect the sorrow when it hit helped Mom avoid holiday depression.
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Those are a smattering of the things that we – all of us – did to help Mom stay free of the holiday blues. Tomorrow, will look at some of the things the Hyatts & Tamar & the two of us did to help Anne Hyatt, a widow living in a continuous care community, keep the merry in her Christmas!