Participating in family fun is a highlight of senior living for many. One of the best times my family ever had was an “All Person’s Birthday Celebration” (so named that because we’d been unable to gather for a whole year). We played very silly games, elementary ones, “from toddlers to tottlers,” we called it. Each of us took a turn writing a commemorative note on the white-papered tablecloth and dated it. A couple of teens showed their expertise with taking pictures on their phones. We ate easy, messy finger food. There were grillers and cleanup-types and lots of sitting around telling stories. This is where the patriarchs and matriarchs really shined and the kids learned a thing or two.
Each person came with their own expectations of the day and left with something of value. Mom, in her late 70s then, really loved it and was later heard to brag on her family’s party. She also told me she enjoyed seeing all of the generations in one spot and that it gave her real joy. The teens, whose coolness had reluctantly allowed them to be dragged to a lame family-thing, found themselves useful with art and video, even competitive in games. The middle-aged Adult Children put on the whole shebang. While it was work, it was service, and they were really glad they did it all. The young ones? They received a memory that would remain with them for a lifetime, and simply had fun.
Family Fun and its Role in Senior Living Support
Summer is coming into full swing. This time of year, for those of us in the Advocacy field, the word “support” takes on a new meaning. While “support” often carries clinical connotations, sometimes, the missing element is FUN and enjoyment. Many families are looking forward to summer vacations and holiday weekends, but often struggle to include the whole family in the festivities. The oldest members of the family may be left out or find themselves isolated. This grows worse as physical and cognitive impairments impede participation in certain activities such as hikes, beach trips and long car rides.
The word “senior” highlights something insulting about the way our culture treats our elders by lumping everyone 55 and older into one big group. By contrast, we acknowledge the subtle differences between many different stages of childhood (infants, toddlers, preschoolers, teenagers, even preteens). When we plan parties and trips, we take great care to plan age-appropriate activities and accommodations for the kids in each age group. We invest extensive time to not only meet the needs of the kids but to give the youngest members of the family a joyful experience. Sadly, we do not afford this same respect to the elder adults. Thinking about what kind of senior living experience they would like to have often does not even cross our radar screen.
Every age brings new joy, desires, perspectives, choices and priorities. 60 is quite different from 50, 70 from 60, and so on. Planning a family get-together or outing is a challenge, and not only because of medical or logistical needs. What brings joy and fulfillment is different at every stage of life. What makes a shared family experience memorable and precious is different for each member of the family. Elder adults are short-changed in this regard, as families often think of their basic needs only. Mom can just stay in the hotel room all day while the family goes shopping. She’s got her medicine; she’ll be fine. Dad can’t come with us; he’s in no shape to fly, and he gets worn out in the car. He’d rather stay home anyhow.
We were hell-bent on having Dad at my sister’s house for the Holiday gathering, the ranch house with five steps to the entryway. By that time, Dad was in a wheelchair and residing in the memory unit of his community. My sister had specially purchased some portable ramps (I still swear a sheet of plywood would have done better), and we got him into the house. We all had a good time, food, festivities, traditional music and such. Dad held court and the great grandkids were presented one by one. Someone proposed that we sing as a family. I thought, “Oh no. I don’t want to. This will not fly! How will the others act? We’ve never sung outside of church, and none of us plays an instrument anymore.” The nephew whipped out his laptop (which we found out later that he’d prepared), complete with music and lyrics queued up. We did it! After about four songs, we were at the top of our game. I stood corrected. I really did feel better, I believe most did. Nobody thought about the duration of the outing until Dad announced he needed to use the facilities. That’s when we encountered the small doorway to the slender bathroom, an Adult daughter who offered to assist, a Father who refused and a reluctant brother-in-law who was enlisted. And so for one reason or another, we all remember that time together.
The easy and convenient answer is to exclude those who cannot readily join family gatherings. The strongest and healthiest families, however, put in extra effort to include all. This time of year is an opportunity not just to travel, but to create experiences for the family to come together. As we often say, the first step is to HAVE THE CONVERSATION. When thinking about family trips, gatherings and other occasions that bring the extended family together, ask the key questions. What activities can the family do together that allow everyone to participate? What type of experience would each member of the family really enjoy? What would be the most meaningful and memorable?
Additional challenges may arise if dementia is present, or if mental illness limits their ability to even consider celebration. For someone suffering from depression, the thought of joy is unfathomable, even alien. Families too often exclude or forget those who suffer from this type of condition. Sometimes, even when no direct remedy is possible, the only answer is to surround the loved one with family, and to simply give them the gift of being accepted as they are. They may not be able to show appreciation or even feel it, but the impact can be profound.
The tradition of honoring the elders in the family has run throughout many different cultures over time. Over the last several generations respect for this ideal has diminished. It can be all too easy to forget the contributions of the generations who raised us, took care of us and built the world that we now live in. Every shared family experience is an opportunity to rekindle our treasured memories and keep our deepest traditions alive.
If it’s about time for you and your family to HAVE THE CONVERSATION, then we can help. Let’s talk about your vision and what you would like your family support system to look like, and lay out a plan. CONNECT WITH US on our website, or call us at (919) 628.4428 to schedule a FREE initial consultation.
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