Do you know someone who may be hurting this holiday season? Reach out with one of these five tangible ways you can make their season a little brighter.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of togetherness and joy, but for many people, the holiday season can bring about a lot of sadness. People can be hurting for a number of reasons, including feeling alone, suffering a recent loss, or not being able to provide holiday meals or gifts for their family. Whatever the reason someone is hurting during the holiday season, today I’m going to give you five tangible things you can do to help:
Visit an Older Neighbor
Last week, my husband and I invited an older gentleman in our area to join us for dinner. He’s 83, lives in Arizona during the winter, and is a great conversationalist. What we didn’t realize is that, even though he is very fun to be around, he’s also very lonely. His kids and grandkids live in the Midwest, and he recently had two close friends pass away. We talked about how he misses the days when people would “visit” each other once a week. He wishes people would still knock on the door and invite themselves over instead of relying on social media and texting to communicate.
It cost us very little, literally two hours of our time and a bowl of soup that we shared, to make this man’s night. Since then we have invited ourselves over to his home, and invited him to a dinner with another local couple. He is opening up a little more each time we see him, and his spirits are starting to rise. If you have an older person or couple living in your neighborhood, make a point to stop by and say hello. If they invite you in, join them. Let them make you a cup of tea. Eat a cookie or two if they pull out treats for you. And if you can, offer to bring a meal by in the next week to share with them. These seemingly little acts can go a long way with someone who is alone during this time of the year.
Make Friends in a Nursing Home
If you don’t have any older neighbors who would appreciate a visitor, you can still have a big impact on the lives of an elderly person. My grandmother lived in a nursing home for years before she passed away, and she often talked about others in the home who didn’t have family to come visit them. She felt very fortunate to have her kids and grandkids come by on a regular basis, but recognized that there were many other residents who never had visitors. She would go visit others in their rooms, and she would also encourage some of our family members to stop by certain rooms to talk with others who might be lonely.
If you have a couple hours open, and you are in good health (i.e., no colds, flu, or anything else contagious), consider visiting a local nursing home. Call ahead and ask the nurses if there are any residents who might want a visitor. Often times, the nurses know who is lonely, and they can point you to someone who would like to chat for a bit. Ask them if there is anything you should know before arriving or if there is anything you could bring the resident. The nurses may offer up information such as the resident’s favorite candy (so you can bring them a treat), their favorite color (so you can wear it), or their favorite activity (so you can plan to do it with them).
This is something that is very helpful to do year round. Even stopping by the nursing home once a month can give a resident something to look forward to, and to reminisce about during the days when they are alone.
Help Make (and Eat) a Meal at a Shelter
Over the years, I have volunteered a number of times at homeless shelters and with free meal programs. I love to cook and serve food to others, but I quickly realized that serving others food is only a small part of what makes the guests of the meal feel loved. If you want to have a bigger impact, take a fifteen minute break from serving, grab a meal, and sit down at one of the tables. Many people who are eating in shelters live very isolated lives. If they are living on the streets, they are often ignored by people passing them by, so having a conversation with someone can help them feel human again. Offering a listening ear can make a huge impact on the life of someone who feels like they are shunned by society.
When you are speaking with someone who is going through a rough patch, start the conversation, but let them guide where it goes. Open with introducing yourself and shaking their hand. Start with light conversation about the food or the weather, and if it seems appropriate, feel free to ask them about themselves. Try to stay away from questions that could make them feel guilty about their current status in life, like, “How long have you been homeless?” Instead ask questions that you would ask someone at a networking event like, “How long have you been living in this city?” Some people will be closed with their answers, and some will open up about what got them to this point in their life. Don’t judge or try to fix them by offering unsolicited advice, rather just listen to them like you would your best friend.