The Christmas season is a blessed and festive time, but it can also be lonely and challenging for senior citizens.
Seniors who are widowed, have no family or family members far away might find themselves without any visitors.
Tasks like holiday shopping, decorating and cooking, which younger people take for granted, can be difficult or nearly impossible for some folks to do without help.
Staff and volunteers in senior ministry suggest some innovative ways to brighten the season for elderly people in your parish, neighborhood or community.
The gift of time, a listening ear, or some elbow grease to help with household tasks is often better than a Christmas gift that might never be worn or used.
Simple social contact can be one of the most important gifts for seniors during the holiday season.
“One of the best things you can do is just pick up the phone, give them a call and make sure they are thought of,” said Stacey Lazurek, senior care coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Piedmont Deanery.
Make contact with someone you might already know through your neighborhood or from your parish, said Ursuline Sister Julienne Guy, director of senior ministry at St. Joseph Church in Columbia.
When you call someone, identify yourself quickly and make sure they understand you are calling to see how they are doing.
If you know a senior citizen who would enjoy a visit, don’t feel you have to bring an elaborate gift or have a planned topic of conversation. Often, the simple presence of someone who cares is enough, said Jean Hever, a member of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville. She regularly visits a 92-year-old woman as a volunteer with Senior Companions.
“A lot of times we just enjoy joking with each other and sharing a sense of humor and stories,” Hever said. “Seniors can enjoy just sitting and having a cup of tea together. What’s important is that they have someone who is a good listener.”
Help with errands
The holiday season is a busy time for everyone, and senior citizens are no different. Many who no longer drive or have trouble getting around by themselves still need and want to shop, mail packages and cards, go to the hair salon, and perform other routine errands. A day of shopping can also be a great pick-me-up for someone who spends a lot of time alone.
“It’s not just about buying things,” Hever said. “Seniors enjoy getting out and seeing what’s happening. It’s a chance to get out around people and also see some of the festivity of the season.”
Deck the halls, light the lights
Christmas spirit is often shown through lights, trees and wreaths.
Volunteers suggest helping the elderly put up their decorations, or providing some for those who can’t afford a tree or are unable to get out and purchase one. Even a small Christmas tree in a pot or a poinsettia can brighten up a home.
Decorations don’t just enhance private homes. Volunteers from the senior ministry at Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant provide crocheted Christmas stockings and angels made by students at Christ Our King-Stella Maris School. They were given to residents in area nursing homes and assisted living facilities, said Sister Mary Cyril Murray, a Sister of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy and director of senior ministry at the parish.
A trip to see the beautiful decorations in public displays can also be a great way to give a lonely senior an outing and a chance to boost their spirit, Sister Mary Cyril said.
Give gifts that will be of use
Instead of buying a generic present, take the time to learn what would brighten a senior’s daily life.
“Talk to your senior and try to find the thing that would give them a tremendous amount of joy, and provide that for them,” said Joe Bishop, a member of St. Mary Church in Greenville.
As a volunteer with Senior Companions, Bishop regularly visits an 87-year-old woman who can’t travel to Masses.
He found out she enjoyed listening to cassette recordings of past sermons by Father Jay Scott Newman, the pastor at St. Mary, but her cassette player had broken. Bishop bought her a new one, and said she now regularly comments on how much she enjoys it.
Other suggestions: buy or provide supplies for a senior’s favorite craft or hobby, books by their favorite authors or recordings by favorite musicians.
Above all, share sacraments
Offer to take senior citizens who can’t drive to Mass during the Christmas season. If they are confined to a hospital or nursing home, or are homebound, and want to receive the Eucharist, contact their parish and arrange for someone to bring it to them.
“One of the greatest gifts you could give someone during this season is the gift of the Eucharist,” Bishop said.