I have a friend who has been a resident in a nursing home for three years. Her husband passed away a few years back and her children live hundreds of miles away. She is a woman who has always been keen in her senses but is no longer ambulatory; so, everyone thought it was best that she not live alone.

Day by day periods of dullness began to settle into her little corner of the world. In the next bed over was her new friend who tended to sleep most of the time. The nursing staff would come in with their cheery beautiful smiles and usual compliments. And, day by day, the periods of dullness became a new lifestyle in my friend’s surroundings.

Now my dear friend has more time to think about what once was: Sabbath church services, Monday bridge with the gals, Wednesday grocery shopping day, Thursday cleaning the house, Friday Bean Suppers, and Saturday morning catch-up calls to friends and family. Or was it Monday house cleaning and Tuesday grocery shopping . . . ?

The Christmas holiday season is surely a time to remember. When encouraged, my friend still recalls her family Christmas traditions of cutting down the Christmas tree, making popcorn and cranberry strings and green and red paper chains, wrapping special gifts for loved ones and friends, and baking cookies. We never know what it will take to open the window of the mind of a loved one who may have the onset of dementia or well down its path. This time of year is special enough to stir up memories that may help them to relive the life that was special to them.

When I was a little girl, my mother was forever taking me to nursing homes, especially at Christmastime. I would be “Ooohed” and “Aaahed” over and caressed and kissed by people in chairs with big smiles and tender hands. Mother would play the piano and I would sing “Jesus Loves Me” to all who could hear. I didn’t always want to go, but knew I had to. Today I look back and am so grateful for those times I spent with mother and the privilege of bringing a little light into the hearts and eyes of those ladies and gentlemen we briefly entertained. Mother made me aware that these were people who had feelings of joy and sadness, loves and hates, hopes and fears. These were people who needed others to know that their lives still mattered and had a life history that was still on-going.

One of my Christmas privileges this year will be to make my friend’s day enjoyable by being there and sharing memories together. Everyone has a time in their life when they remember the magical wonder of the season. Spend some time with a loved one who may need a jog down memory lane. It just may spread some Christmas cheer to more people than you may have expected.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! 

Lani Kelly is a research writer for Youthful Aging Home Care