Christmas and New Year period has come and gone. The period in one’s life where we are busy being busy, experiencing the joy of celebrating with friends, purchasing presents, over eating and are grateful for the holiday time where public holidays bring opportunity for down time or adventure.
I work as a Support Worker for a community organisation. During the festive period I see some clients experience mental illness. Loneliness overtakes them and they often reflect on the adversity of their lives. For some, a broken relationship with their loved ones or health decline prevents them from travelling meaning they are spending special holidays on their own. With no family support and limited paid support, mental illness creeps up on them and they are unable to maintain their activities of daily living. Tasks such as eating regularly, personal hygiene and basic domestic become burdening.
A Support Worker provides not only physical assistance to a client but emotional as well. Watching someone who has raised families, been successful in their careers, had friendships with others, made a comfortable home for their loved ones etc. are now physically and emotionally alone on special occasions and it is heartbreaking.
A fantastic TV commercial aired approximately two years ago, depicting an old man who goes to great lengths and fakes his own death in desperate attempt to get his children to visit at Christmas time. This TV commercial highlights just one client scenario I observe, particularly during the festive seasons and client birthdays.
How does adversity make one grateful?
Adversity experienced by my clients has opened up the doors of opportunity at times for both the client and myself. Through client adversity I have learnt some of life lessons as well as skills in areas that I would never have ventured. I have learnt to play various card games, how to ice wedding cakes, press flowers between books, darn socks, know all the models of the American Chevy cars, tie the appropriate knot to secure my load on a car trailer and how to prolong the life of my makeup.
I have heard the stories of their adversities and how this has shaped them as an individual. I have comforted them as they have cried over the loss of relationships and regrets and celebrated with them with their wins. I am grateful that the client has trusted me in order for them to express themselves. Howells (2012, p. 95) describes the practice of gratitude requiring an awareness of the purity of our gratitude so that our intention behind our giving involves both a functional and equal relationship. I am humbled by the simplicity of conversation and the magic that intertwines our mutual respect for each other as this occurs. Being given responsibility and trust to care for someone else is a gift.
So next holiday season how can we go about ensuring our elderly are not alone emotionally or physically?
Small acts of gratitude
Sykes (2014) has mentioned in her article various practices that can make a difference in the lives of those who are isolated. Given my understanding of gratitude, I believe these practices may become acts of gratitude when done with sincerity and purpose. A few include:
Encouraging communities and neighbourhoods to engage with elderly people, encouraging them to participate in community events.
Checking in on an elderly neighbour regularly, asking if they have basic daily supplies i.e. milk, bread etc.
Taking time to have a chat with an older person.
Genuinely thanking a person for their time, help or conversation.
Small actions have huge impact on those who are alone, giving that person a sense of belonging and connection. Done with intent the small acts mentioned above may also bring you a sense of gratitude.
The gratitude that is experienced by the elderly is genuine and when returned may give you to a sense of belonging and happiness. Howells (2012, p. 103) states “Our expressions of gratitude unite us with others by causing us to acknowledge, recognise, celebrate, become calm and connect.”
Sounds to me like a fabulous way to start the New Year. 🙂