Family

Our Older Neighbors Need Us Badly

As children, we delivered gifts to homebound seniors near us — and the lesson stuck

A few mornings ago, I had a great conversation with my grandmother, Shirley. At age 78, she’s experienced quite a bit in her life and is a very wise person. I learned that this holiday season, my grandparents have seen their fair share of loss. Four close friends or family members within the last week alone have passed — and one more is in the hospital and unlikely to emerge.

My grandmother mentioned that many elderly people pass away at Christmastime, more so than any other time of the year. The BBC validates this — most countries see “excess winter deaths” occurring between December and March. The number of daily deaths increases by 10 percent during this three-month period.

What would it look like if we took some time out to embrace the elderly in our communities?

Though it may seem counterintuitive, there is no correlation between the cold and these deaths, as this same rise is seen in more tropical climates as well. My grandmother’s speculation for the rise in deaths? Stress and loneliness.

We can help. It’s no secret we can all too quickly get caught up in the hectic nature of Christmas — family gatherings, parties, and holiday shopping all clamor for our time and attention.

What would it look like if we slowed down and took some time out to truly embrace the elderly in our communities?

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As a child, I remember my mom carting my sister and me around from house to house during the holidays to deliver cookies and gifts to the “shut-ins” and the elderly in our neighborhood. As a child this was not my ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but I gained much from the experience. The happiness on the faces of these older people was undeniable and contagious.

There are many benefits to spending time with the older people in our lives — not just for them, but for us as well. Senior citizens have a wealth of knowledge and experience that are incredibly valuable for our generation to know about and learn from.

Related: The Best Things at Christmas Are Free

Five minutes after sitting down with my grandfather, he will begin telling me stories about his family when he was growing up — describing in detail what their property looked like, and illustrating their ability to live off the land.

Teach kids they can truly make a difference.

He’s not the only one with these enriching true stories. There is a universal need to be heard — and if we slow down enough, we will realize we want to hear these stories packed with wisdom, humor, and self-revelation.

One of the saddest realizations is that not all elderly people has family around to hear their stories and keep them company. There are many homebound seniors, unable to leave their homes; their busy families live states away.

There are old men and women sitting in nursing homes right now whose families will not be visiting them this Christmas. Our elderly neighbors, church members, and family members need us more than ever during this joyous this time of year, but many elderly will choose not to reach out for fear of being a burden or an inconvenience.

So why not reach out to them? Grab the kids and bake some cookies, do a craft, or pick up a simple gift and spend an afternoon delivering these things to the elderly you know.

Note: Don’t rush through it. Take time — make time — to sit with people and really be in their space; really listen and speak from the heart. My next-door neighbor still lights up when my kids and I stop by with goodies or just say hello. I can hear the gratitude in my grandparents’ voices every time I call unexpectedly.

Don’t know any seniors? Check with your church or local nursing home. Get to know these people. Take a basket of canned goods, a dessert, or maybe a blanket or two to them.

Related: Older Americans Need More Health Freedom

Ask questions and make sure their needs are being met. Does their house feel too cold — might they be conserving heat (and money) by keeping the thermostat too low?

Do what you can to ensure they are warm, well-fed, and really heard. It’s great for them, it’s great for you, and it’s great for your kids to see an otherwise busy parent slow down long enough to build a relationship with those most vulnerable and most often forgotten in their community.

Teach your kids they really can make a difference in an elder’s life this holiday season. They will be surprised at all they get in return.

Liz Logan lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her growing family. She is pursuing a master’s degree in creative nonfiction.

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