Holidays, anniversaries, and celebrations are particularly difficult times for older people. This is especially true for Christmas and Thanksgiving, two holidays that are particularly family-focused. If you’re not together, a visit, even a short one, on this special day, will be highly appreciated. It will also you give a unique insight into how your parent is really coming along since emotions will likely be running high. If you won’t be together, it’s a great time to make a call, being careful to find a time when you can devote yourself exclusively to your parent. It is different than other calls at other times so be aware of that.

But for most families, holidays are when the family gathers together. And often it’s at the parents’ home. As your parents age, there’ll likely come a time when the site of this gathering shifts. Your parent may no longer be able to handle the chores involved, which means they are no longer the chief cook or host. This can be seen as a loss of status, especially in families where there is competition. Before changing the venue, talk to your parents and explain the facts (your house is larger, more centrally located, easier for everyone to get to, etc.) and your needs (too much work for your parents, too much worry for you, etc.). You may find that parents want the site to change because of the same reasons, but don’t want to say so. And sometimes they may not even want to go to a family gathering but cannot say so.

Important: if a decision has already been made, whether about where to have the family gathering, or any other decision for that matter, don’t pretend the decision has not been made.

When you’re there, this is your opportunity to really pay attention to what your parent is going through. If you’re at her home, it’s a great time to be a snoop, of sorts. You can check out the pantry to see how well stocked it is. Even though it’s the holiday, you should be able to judge how well she shops when the family is not there. It’s also a great time to help Mom fill her shelves with things she needs. When you go shopping for the big holiday meal, bring her along – assuming she can and wants to go – and go down all the aisles with her. Make it an outing and get her involved with the shopping. Then be sure to get not only the groceries needed for the meal, but also the things she’ll need after you’ve all gone home.

A word of caution here: with all the emotion around holidays, you need to do everything you can to be supportive, patient, and non-confrontational. The best way to do so, I have found, is to focus on the details. Try to be as organized as you can., and that alone will help reduce the stress.

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