Coping During Christmas For Lonely Older Adults and Their Children

Joel Eisenberg

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Introduction

The Christmas season for many brings with it mixed blessings. It is a time of reuniting with family and catching up with friends. For children who may not understand the holiday’s religious aspect, it is a time to both give and receive gifts.

For others, it is a time to reflect on the passing of loved ones. It is to this group I am addressing in this piece, and I hope you find some comfort from reading these words.

As I begin my many mental health-related articles on NewsBreak, I will share a brief biography: I am a former licensed Special Education teacher of severely at-risk students with a substantive course load in Abnormal Psychology, which counted as my training program towards my degree and licensure. Though I left the field to become a full-time writer, I have continued my studies in the mental health realm. The words that follow are based in part on my training. Personal anecdotes are included, as are attributions, as necessary from outside sources.

Feeling Alone During The Winter Holidays

A cursory view of social media during the winter holiday season in general will find a plethora of posts mourning loved ones. For some, this will be their first Christmas without a spouse or significant other; for others they may be missing a best friend, or a son or daughter.

The feelings of loneliness tend to be amplified during this period as one ages. I myself lost my father nearly 11 years ago on January 10, 2011, 10 days after the new year and four days prior to my 47th birthday. Me and my two brothers grieved and made the best of what started as a tragic year for the family. My mother was inconsolable, unable to comprehend not only why her husband of close to 50 years had passed at the relatively early age of 70, but how she would be unable to continue living a productive life.

With strong support from her children, she has since not only built a new life for herself, but thrived.

Her ability to move forward, however, had not only proven her resiliency to her children, but also to friends in her senior living community, many of whom were losing or had recently lost their spouses.

The value of a support system is key to coping during the winter holidays.

There are more.

Coping Mechanisms

The Mayo Clinic maintains a comprehensive article about coping during the winter holidays on its website. See here for “Stress, Depression and the Holidays: Tips for Coping,” which delves into additional holiday triggers.

Excerpted from the article: Take control of the holidays. Don't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.

It should be noted that one should plan prior to any possible calamity, as opposed to not being prepared when something unexpected or inevitable does happen.

Other coping mechanisms, from the Mayo Clinic article and personal experience include the following:

  • Reaching out. Many older adults who were not raised using computers may be unaware of the occasional benefits of social media. I use the word occasional deliberately, as public forums can of course be a breeding ground for hate speech and other ugliness. If utilized prudently, though, social media can also breed interactivity and true friendships. For those older adults who do not use computers, reaching out remains imperative as a means to combat amplified feelings of loneliness during the holiday season. Neighbors, family if any, even hospital or care staff if that’s the situation may be there to talk. Take advantage of any opportunity.
  • Reading, doing puzzles, or creating art of any measure will help keep the mind sharp and perhaps off of one’s state of feeling alone. Still, for some, loneliness is not a bad thing. Some people do prefer to be alone, during the holidays and otherwise. You can read more about that phenomenon here, in a LifeHack.org article entitled “10 Things That Happen When You Start to Enjoy Being Alone.”
  • Some children of older adults have had to undertake the difficult task of placing an ailing parent in a nursing home, hospital, care center, or senior community. Doing so is typically a strongly emotional undertaking, symbolic to many of the beginning of life’s end stage. If done for the right reasons, namely placing the parent in new housing due to an inability to care for them otherwise, one has no reason to feel guilty. See here for “Coping with the Decision to Put Your Parent in a Nursing Home,” from agingcare.com. I am including this bullet point and link here as said parent may no longer be physically or emotionally able to visit you, but in the above events you can still visit them. If you are a child placing a parent in hospice care, which represents life’s true end stage, your grief in doing so may nonetheless represent to them a considerably more peaceful passing. Your loneliness of being without your parent may be overwhelming, though the passage of time will most often place your actions into perspective. Such is an early step towards resuming productivity and feelings of true companionship on your behalf. On this, I speak from personal experience.

Conclusion

Reminding ourselves that the winter holidays are days like any other is true in theory, but not emotionality. When one is downtrodden during these holidays, a sense of being bombarded with happy imagery throughout our varied forms of media, and sometimes via our friends through well-meaning cards and other expressions, can amplify feelings of truly being alone.

You are not alone. Others have lost and are recovering as well. Some share their pain openly; some remain private.

These may be the winter holidays, but focus on you today if you must.

I hope these words have helped. Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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