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Holiday Sadness & Loneliness

December 26, 2019|active listening, Ageism, Aging Parents, Cognition, Depression, Dignity, distance, Eldercare, empathy, feelings, Generations, Grandchildren, Grandparents, Intergenerational programs, Isolation, Legacy, Life with Purpose, Loneliness, Longevity, Love, Purposeful Living, Quality of Life, Respect, Sadness, Well-Being, Wisdom


Many people have experienced loss or are in situations that make them feel less than joyful at the holiday season. Societal, family and professional pressures for them to feel and experience joy can be stressful. Everywhere around us are reminders of joy, happiness, family, friends, good times, and cheer. For those feeling very different emotions, it may make them feel even more despondent and isolated.

There are a variety of situations which may result in the feelings of sadness and loneliness. This applies not only to our elder citizens, but also to their friends and families.

People who may be grieving from a loved one lost recently or from a loved one who has been lost at this time of year which conjures up memories of the loss. Loss of independence is a loss often not considered. This may be the result of decrease or loss of physical ability or  because a person has lost their ability to live independently in the community; now finding themselves living a care facility. 

People who are separated from families or friends, or those without family or friends, may be isolated at home or have no-one with whom to share the holiday. Social isolation is a key ingredient of depression.

Other areas effecting sadness are those whose loved  is experiencing significant cognitive impairment and therefore, are not aware of, or cannot participate w family rituals or celebrations as they had in the past. Those caregivers who experience this on a day to day basis may have an even more difficult time. 

Honor your feelings rather than trying to deny them, consider your accomplishment(s), however small; allow yourself a break from a routine to acknowledge the source of strength and goodness you are providing to others, the most valuable gift of all. 

There are a number of ways in which you can bring even a moment of joy or happiness to someone in need.

I have always found that listening to someone in need is a gift you can offer which lifts someone’s spirits, albeit briefly. The opportunity to share what one is feeling with someone who acknowledges and truly listens can give you insight into their needs and ways in which you can help.

Yesterday, I was in a situation in which a person in a nursing home asked, “what can I do to work?” There are many people, especially those who are older, who feel they are no longer useful or have a purpose. Life with purpose is a fundamental human need and lingers in each one of us. Help think of creative ways to include those around you, in whatever small way, while verbalizing the importance of what they are doing and the value they are providing. This will go a long way to assuage feelings of loneliness and help a person feel a sense of purpose.

This is a good time of year to share or create memory or legacy books to let older lover ones know the importance they have in the family and in your life. Sharing these memories with younger generations and extended family is equally important. It not only gives insight into who the person is and was, but provides a perspective of ancestry and history that younger generations cannot get through search engines. These shared experiences leave indelible memories that impart great personal meaning and importance. They are never forgotten. I wish I had the opportunity to verbalize the importance of these memories to my parents. My father died when I was a teenager and my mother has been gone for many years. It’s only with the passage of time and wisdom of my years that I realize how much it would have meant to both of my parents to know the value of what they passed on to me. 

People don’t send greeting cards as they had in the past. Young and old alike opt for E-cards; some even a generic text to share greetings. (I’m guilty of that myself) That means that those among us who are not technologically savvy, or have access to technology, (and there are many) will not receive any kind of holiday greeting. Elders among us are especially used to sending and receiving greeting cards. Remember the importance that may represent in the lives of those older people in your family or your circle of friends. Consider a family gathering where you write and exchange cards with each other or prepare to send to others. If you are with a loved one, consider a face time phone call to someone at a distance.  If they do not have access to that technology, consider contacting a church, home health agency group that has contact with your loved one, or staff member in a care facility, to arrange a face time phone call with you, and possibly other in your family or friendship circle. 

If you are a caregiver for someone who is experiencing significant cognitive impairment, or if there is someone in your family in this situation, consider that each moment you have together is valuable. Think about creating new experiences and new stories, Whenever you can, laugh at the frailties as well as the lucid moments, though they may be few and far between. Believe it or not, it is not cruel to find humor in these situations. It helps to lighten the mood. A friend of mine who is helping to care for his ailing father admitted that his emotions run the gamut. He expressed it in these words. He is grateful for his father’s presence, acknowledges feeing sad by his present state, but amused by the almost childlike candor at times. He has accepted that this has become the new normal. This helps create new stories.

When my children were younger, I worked in skilled nursing facilities. I made the mistake of keeping them away from the situation thinking I was shielding them from the sadness and dismal eventuality of the environment. I realize now that was a mistake. Being that they did not have the benefit of my parents, It would have been valuable for them to experience the older population just as it was equally important for the elders to be around their youth. That remains even more true today. It is imperative for younger people to understand the wisdom and wealth of experience and insights that older people can impart. Older people enjoy being around children, experiencing their joy and laughter, and seeing their vibrancy. This can be tremendously uplifting for an older person in your family or in your community. Think about including youth in your interactions, especially older people who are feeling sad and lonely.

A suggestion I offered for the next Grandparents day at Olive Community Services was sharing recipes or creating a recipe book. I have very few recipes for the favorite dishes my mother used to make. I’ve searched and found a few recipes for the ones I don’t have, but they don’t quite hit the mark for how I remember them. I will never know that special ingredient my mother added to make them so distinctive and delicious ….oh, how I wish I knew!!!!

We are all consumed with or own busy schedules this time of year; however, if you are aware of someone amongst your family, friends, coworkers, or a neighbor in your community who is experiencing loneliness, sadness or depression, especially brought on by the joviality that this time of year represents, reaching out to them or including them in some way could be just what it is needed. Also remember it is important to be kind to yourself.  View the article in agingcare.com for additional information and suggestions: https://www.agingcare.com/articles/elderly-loneliness-during-holidays-148441.htm


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