How can one make the Advent season and Christmas a joy-filled meaningful celebration when one is alone and lonely?
I like the answer which Barbara Baumgardner, gives us in her story, “The Aroma of Christmas.”
The first Christmas after my husband died was filled with forced laughter, fake smiles and trying desperately to have a good time.
Twelve months later healing was evidenced by the excitement welling up with me as I prepared for a grand and glorious holiday. The kids and grandchildren were coming to spend Christmas at my home.
I decorated everything I could reach. Poinsettias, holly and mistletoe decorated the rooms. Christmas cassettes filled the air with “Joy to the World” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The aroma of Christmas was the best part because it deliciously replaced the aroma of death that had hung heavily in my home for so long! Spice snicker doodles and chewy lemon sugar cookies produce a spirit-lifting, pungent fragrance. Sticky cinnamon rolls, butter-filled bread twists and golden-brown pumpkin pies found their into the freezer to await a celebration of our Savior’s birthday and a reunion of family and friends.
This year, I could hardly wait to have the family gather for Christmas in my home. But at 7 am three days before Christmas, the first telephone call came. “Mom, I hope you’ll understand. The water here is below zero, and I’ve been up all night with freezing, bursting water pipes. There is no way I can leave this mobile home and come for Christmas.” The second call came only twenty minutes later, ”Mom, with the wind-chill factor, it’s forty-five below. We can’t leave the sheep and the water pipes to come home. Is there any way you can come here?”
As I hung up, I felt very, very alone. I lived only 135 miles away from this daughter and my only grandchildren, but I couldn’t go there for Christmas because I was committed to some people here in town.
I had invited my brother-in-law, who was a widower and his eight-four-year–old mother to come for Christmas dinner, and a young man from the singles group at church had already accepted, too. And I had told the man across the street that I would bring him a plate of dinner at two o’clock on Christmas Day. He was a blunt old codger in his eighties. He always smelled like stale cigars and had brown goo running down his chin.
And I had invited a single lady friend with an eight-year-old boy to spend Christmas Eve with me and my family. And now my family wouldn’t be here.
“Why Lord?” I protested aloud. “Why can’t I be with my family on Christmas?”
Unexpectedly an awesome humility silenced my complaining heart. The Lord began to answer me: “I know it’s Christmas, Barbara; it’s my birthday. What did you get me?”
“What do you mean, what did I get you, Lord?”
“Whose birthday is it?” he insisted. “What did you get me?”
“What shall I get you, Lord?” There was only silence. “Could I start by inviting more folks to your birthday party? I could invite the old guy from across the street to bring his dog and sit down to the dinner table with us.”
“And there is that man from the gospel mission who I fired last summer while he was trimming my trees because I didn’t like his attitude.” I began to laugh. “Wouldn’t it blow his mind if I called and invited him to dinner?”
“And the checker from the grocery store who shoveled my driveway the last time it snowed—he’s alone now and will probably eat in a restaurant.”
The list began to grow and soon my table was filled, but not as full as my heart.
The old man across the street could hardly talk, he was so choked with emotion when I invited him to come over and join the crowd for dinner.
I do not remember ever having so much fun preparing Christmas dinner as the day I gave my Christmas to Jesus as a birthday gift. And the meaning of Christmas penetrated my heart in a way I’d not anticipated.
Never have I received such a precious gift as when I watched the man from the gospel mission fill his plate five times, and I sense the Lord’s nod of approval.
Alone at Christmas? Never! It’s Jesus’ birthday, and I’m having a party. You want to come?
May we include those who are alone and lonely to be a part of our Advent season. Amen.
We’re covering the question ‘How can we love and care for the elderly?’ We all have friends or family members who need to know someone cares about them. They need assurance that they are loved and valued even if they are unable to do all things they’ve done in the past. Every person needs to know they matter to someone.
Over the next two weeks we hope to offer stories from experiences of others, good advice, and valuable ideas you will be able to use often.
From Rachel Remen, MD, (Kitchen Table Wisdom):
Two days before my mother’s eightieth birthday I asked her how she wanted to spend the day. “I want to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty,” she replied. “Isn’t there an elevator?” I asked. My mother looked at me. “I want to climb the stairs,” she said. She had lived in New York City for almost eighty years but she had never had this experience. She clearly remembered her first view of the “liberty” when she had sailed into the New York harbor from Russia. She had been five years old then. Now, of course, she had a severe heart condition, and there were 342 steps to the top. Undaunted, I realized we could do it three or four steps at a time, resting in between. We would take her nitroglycerin and simply allow the whole day. When I proposed this to Mom she was delighted. Read more here.
Growing Old Isn’t For Sissies
My 92 year old mother use to say, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.” Growing old has its own set of challenges and struggles, but today we are going to listen to the wisdom of several people who care for and about the elderly. Vivian Greenberg states, “The elderly generally want to do as much as they can for themselves. As older people are able to manage fewer of the tasks of daily living and must depend on others to perform them, whatever they can still do by themselves assumes enormous significance. Polishing the brass candlesticks and peeling and coring apples to make a big pot of applesauce are precious symbols of control and independence. So what if these activities take an hour. My mother at 90 gave the following advice. Do not talk down to older people or treat them like children. Please show respect for each person. I need extra help, but that does not mean that I am mentally slow. I have lived and learned for 90 years. I have opinions, likes, and dislikes. I am a person.” Continue the story and listen to a podcast here.
How to Survive Your Aging Parents
How to Survive Your Aging Parents…So you and they can enjoy life, is the name of a book by Berman and Shulman. It is filled with wisdom on how to lovingly and effectively care for an older parent. Below is some suggestions on how to establish good communication:
Rules of the Communicating Game
- Let Mom vent. Chances are she’s alone a great deal. She needs an audience besides the philodendron and the cat.
- Be truly attentive. Even if your parent provides you with an “organ recital” of all the latest ills, the list of complaints will be exhausted eventually. Your parent may feel reassured just by telling you about a new pain or ache. People of any age who live alone tend to be more upset about physical ailments. When one awakens at 2 AM with a pounding heart and sweaty palms, it seems worse when the other side of the bed is empty.
- Show you’re listening.
There are more ideas and tips. Finish reading about them here.
Today’s wisdom comes from Rachel Remen, MD, (Kitchen Table Wisdom)
Two days before my mother’s eightieth birthday I asked her how she wanted to spend the day. “I want to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty,” she replied. “Isn’t there an elevator?” I asked. My mother looked at me. “I want to climb the stairs,” she said. She had lived in New York City for almost eighty years but she had never had this experience. She clearly remembered her first view of the “liberty” when she had sailed into the New York harbor from Russia. She had been five years old then. Now, of course, she had a severe heart condition, and there were 342 steps to the top. Undaunted, I realized we could do it three or four steps at a time, resting in between. We would take her nitroglycerin and simply allow the whole day. When I proposed this to Mom she was delighted.
During the six-hour ascent, I had many misgivings. How had I gotten into this crazy thing, climbing the Statue of Liberty with an eighty-year-old woman with severe heart disease? But it was her wish and so we continued, a few steps at a time. She may have had angina but she also had an iron will. I think half of New York must have passed us on those stairs.
Finally, unbelievably, we were six or seven steps from the top. As we stood there taking what must have been our three-hundredth time-out, my mother eyed the last few steps between her and her goal with resentment. “Why,” she said, “couldn’t we have done these first?”
Thank you Dr. Remen, for sharing this story with us. I really value this story for several reasons: First, the story emphasizes “caregiving” at its best. This daughter listened, really listened, to her mother’s wish. Her 80 year-old mother wanted to climb the 342 steps in the Statue of Liberty. Not only did she really hear her mother’s wish, but she honored the desires of her mother and made it happen. Even though it took a whole day . . .even though her mother had a severe heart disease . . . even though others may have thought it was a foolish, risky thing to do – the daughter heard her mother’s wish and made it happen. She gave her mother a wonderful birthday gift.
I also love this story because I want to be like this 80 year old woman when I am 80 years old. I hope that I still have the energy and the desire to have goals and work to accomplish them. This woman chose life. She teaches all of us—no matter what our age that we must “be willing to do the really important things any way we can, even three steps at a time.”
If this woman was your 80 year old mother, and she wanted to climb the 342 steps of the Statue of Liberty, how would you respond? Please share your responses (stories) with me by going to my website, wisdomofthewounded.com, and click on “Share Your Story.”
Affirm your children. Expressing praise may or may not come naturally to you, but it’s important. Affirmation from Dad plays a big role in shaping a child’s self-confidence and attitude. So here is a checklist which gives you 7 ways to affirm your child:
#1: Hug your kids every day: Hugs build bonds and foster a sense of security and comfort. (Research says there are health benefits to hugs too!) If you don’t live with your kids full-time, make sure they get hugs every time you see them.
#2: Say “I love you” every day: Sure, your kids know, hopefully, you love them. You demonstrate it every day by what you do for them. But hearing the words makes a difference. Say it when you praise them or after disciplining them; but say it! And say it often!
#3: Compliment your kids at least three times each week: Think of three things to compliment each child on. Maybe it’s their appearance, improvement in a certain area, their interaction with a sibling or praising a character trait they demonstrate.
#4: Ask your kids one way you can improve as a Dad: They’ll appreciate you valuing their opinion and you’ll set an example of humility. Then, if the suggestion is accurate, act on their feedback.
#5: Say “thanks” often: Even in the busyness of juggling the family’s schedule and daily needs, find things to say thanks to your kids. Thank them for doing their chores, sharing with their siblings, or just being awesome in general.
#6: Show excitement to see your kids when you come home: Make coming home a big deal. Intentionally greet your kids. Seeing them is the highlight of your day – show it!
#7: Surprise them – do something nice or give them a gift/treat: You don’t have to wait for birthdays or special occasions to surprise your kids. It doesn’t have to be pricey – pick up ice cream for dessert or leave a funny note on their bed.
How did you do? Please remember that affirmations from you, Dad, play a big role in shaping your child’s self-confidence and attitude toward themselves and the world. Listen to these 2-minute podcasts to review the 7 ways you can affirm your child. Part One and Part Two
This week takes us into the lives of those who have experienced what it means to have cancer. Each day one of them shares some words we can say or things we can do to give them encouragement and hope.
- How can we care for a person with cancer? Ask Important Questions! Ask, “How are you, today?” and also ask, “What’s going to be the hard part for you?” Be sincere and show them that what they are going through is important to you. Listen to a 2-minute podcast here.
- How can we care for a person with cancer? Tell them you’re coming over …. Then visit them. Be creative with special treats and conversations that will brighten their days. Even if they say they don’t need anything, that’s when they will most appreciate that you are there. Listen here for more about what you can do.
- How can we care for a person with cancer? Talk with them out of a compassionate heart. Do not say things like “You don’t look sick.” “Cancer is a gift.” “God has his purposes for giving you cancer.” Instead, you might say, “I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like for you?” “I know that you are hurting, and I really care about that. If you want to talk about it, I’ll listen.” This 2-minute podcast has more on this topic – “Do not say…”
- How can we care for a person with cancer? Be there! Don’t avoid your friend because they have a serious illness. Go visit them in person and stay awhile. While you’re there, be in the moment with them. Do you have 2 minutes? Listen to a podcast here.
- How can we care for a person with cancer? Say, “May I go with you?” Put aside your own schedule for the day. You will be doing the most important thing –the thing that Jesus would do ….caring for someone who is alone and struggling. Listen to a 2-minute podcast here.
I’ve often been asked that question. “How do I become a compassionate caregiver when my spouse was unexpectedly and suddenly diagnosed with cancer?” Or maybe it’s another serious illness and a loved one is thrust into the roll of caregiver overnight.
I recently received this email from someone who experienced that very thing right after becoming a new father. Let’s have him tell his story. There’s a link to a 3 minute video that further describes their plight.
I came across your blog and really identified with a lot of your writing. My name is Cameron and I was thrown into the role of caregiver when my wife, Heather, was diagnosed with a very rare and deadly cancer called mesothelioma, just three months after the birth of our only child. We were initially told that she could have less than 15 months to live, but she was able to defy the odds, and eventually beat the cancer.
During her treatment, I had to learn quickly to be an effective caregiver, and there were many times when I became overwhelmed and beaten down by the role, but we managed to fight through it together. We recently participated in a short video about my wife’s cancer experience, which we hope to use to raise awareness and support for people fighting illness and the caregivers who fight alongside them.
I was wondering if you would be interested in sharing this video on your blog? I’d love to share our message of hope with your readers
Here is the link to Cameron and Heather’s video.
Praying is having a conversation with God—just as if God was sitting across the counter from you. But sometimes my mind wanders. . .sometimes it seems that I just say the same things over and over. A prayer model which I really like is the ACTS prayer: The acronym stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Here is the pattern:
Adoration: As we spend time in adoration, we acknowledge and praise God for who God is and what God does. So this morning I said, “Dear gracious God –you are my creator, my friend, my guide – you are faithful, forgiving, you are my rock.” So start by praising God with words from your heart that describe why you adore your God.
Confession: 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and will forgive us our sins.” This part of prayer is to name those things we have done which were harmful to our relationship with God, harmful to others or harmful to ourselves. So this morning, I said: “Please forgive me for I have neglected a friend who is alone, lonely and ill. I have not spent time reading your word. I have been eating too much junk food.”
If you cannot think of any sins which you have committed, just be quiet and listen and the Holy Spirit will reveal areas in your life that are not pleasing to God. Part of confessing the sin is to change –to repent- to turn in a new direction—an active move on your part to no longer indulge in that particular sin.
Thanksgiving: “In everything give thanks.” 1 Thess. 5:18 Thanksgiving allows us to thank God for what God has done for us, and through us, right now.
“Thank you for the beautiful day, that I have meaningful work to do, for my health, for my husband, my children and grandchildren.” Potentially, this part of the prayer could be very long. Also remember to include little wonderful touches which God adds to our lives like: clean water to drink, electricity supply we can depend on, a surplus of food in our refrigerator, hot showers, etc.
Supplication: Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In this part of the prayer we ask God to meet the needs of ourselves and others.
Pray for others. “Please be with a grandchild who is in a challenging time and needs to make good choices.”
Pray for world issues. “I am concerned about the people of Haiti and the break-out of chorea. What should I do?” It is good to remember that prayer is a way of connecting with God; so that, God can empower us to take “action.”
Pray for your own needs. “Dear God, I continue to struggle with making good food choices. Help me O Lord.”
May this ACTS prayer be helpful to you as you connect with God in prayer.
Remember it is also important to be quiet and listen because God may have a definite response to your thoughts and words. For example: I prayed this morning, “Help me make better food choices.” A few minutes later the question came, “What will you do today about your bad food choices? What action? What will you do about the cholera outbreak in Haiti?
Remember that the purpose of prayer is to connect us with God so that we can be empowered by God. . .empowered to know what to do and then to do it.
Try the ACTS prayer. Amen
If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Providing hope to someone whose days are dark with worry or who is suffering with a serious illness is also giving them courage and the vitality to keep moving. What are some things we can do to bring that touch of hope?
- When you’re with the person, tell them when you will be returning so they can anticipate the next time you’ll be together.
- If you’re aware of an expected visitor, remind the person that someone special is planning to visit. You could even put it on their calendar.
- Promise to call them at a designated time each day or week (and be sure to do it).
- When visiting in person, leave 7 tiny surprise packages – with instructions to open one after dinner each night. Each evening ends with inspired hope.
- Give them a goal to work toward or invite them to attend an event.
- Mail cards with notes of encouragement and hope inside regularly.
- Write out and post messages of hope from the Bible around the person’s home
All of these are little ways to give people a bit of joy on a dark day. To give them something to look forward to – a touch of hope.
To hear more about providing hope to someone who is suffering and to hear examples of how I’ve used some of these suggestions in my own care giving, listen to my radio show on the same topic.
I know that it is important to write a note to a grieving person. I want to write a note, but I often procrastinate and don’t write it because I do not know what to say. Please give me some advice on writing a note to a grieving person.
I do not have an ironclad formula that must be followed when writing a note; however, I will share with you my “3 Rs of Writing a Condolence Note:
#1 – BE REAL
#2 – RECALL
#3 – REMIND
#1 BE REAL: As you reach out, admit your honest feelings. If the news stunned you, say so. If you are overwhelmed with pity and compassion, admit it. So recently in writing a note to Connie, I said, “When we heard of Hal’s death we felt so sad.” That’s how I felt, so that’s what I wrote.
#2 RECALL: Recall an important event or memory or fun bit of wisdom you learned from the deceased, and use the deceased’s name. For example, I said, “I remember years ago when you and Hal were in my Bethel Bible class. I can still see you sitting in the back right hand corner of the room. You were so faithful and I often thought, “What a dedicated couple – to the class, and to each other.”” So I was recalling a memory.
#3 REMIND: Remind the person you are writing to that they are still valued, and loved by you and by others and by God. So I said in conclusion to Connie, “Whenever I think of you I see a beautiful woman with a lovely smile which lights up a room or any other place where she is. May all your memories continue to bring a smile to your heart and to the world.”
My “3 –Rs:” BE REAL, RECALL, REMIND May these be helpful as you reach out to write a note. God bless.
As caregivers we are often tempted to rush in with a quick fix when someone is grieving. You can’t fix it. When a person has lost someone or something important, he or she grieves, and grief is a process which takes time—lots of time. Offering advice in the forms of clichés and quick fixes may make you feel more at ease, but that’s not the object
- “Everything will be just fine.”
- “I understand. . .”
- “Be strong.” Or “You are a strong person.”
- “Tomorrow will be a brighter day.”
- “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
- “Win some. Lose Some.”
- “You’ve got to pull yourself together.”
- “This too shall pass.”
- “You know what the Bible says . . . .”
- “What do you think that God is trying to teach you through this situation?”
- “All things work together for good to those who love God.”
- “When God closes one door, he opens another.”
- “You’re a strong Christian person.”
- “Try to look on the bright side.”
- “Count your blessings.”
- “My uncle had the same disease and . . .”
- “You look great.” (Implying that the person should also feel great.)
- “Well, here’s what I think you should do. . . .”
- “God doesn’t promise us a rose garden.”
- Depending on the situation, asking:“Was he wearing a helmet?” “Was she wearing a seat belt?” “Did he smoke?”
- “I know it hurts but…”
It is helpful to remember that as caregivers, we can’t fix another person’s suffering. So don’t try. However, we can be there and encourage the person to talk about his or her conflicts and struggles and feelings.
Please leave your thoughts and comments on this topic below. Do you have a caregiving question? Ask Karen!