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“3 Holiday Challenges” by Patricia Cavanaugh


I just got off the phone with Southwest Airlines.  I am planning a trip to southern California to visit my children for Thanksgiving and was delighted to see the senior rates still available. So the season begins full of delights but often fraught with challenges. 

The holidays have changed for many “boomers” and the “matures”. Our children are grown and with homes and families of there own.  What was once a simple family affair has turned in to a complex event calling for thoughtful planning and psychological awareness.

Location, location, location is more important than just for real estate.  Many families and friends are spread out across the continent and around the globe.  The cost of travel is high in these tough economic times.  Some families find a way by meeting half way so no one bears the brunt of the costs.  Some vary the location every other year. I know a family that finds a vacation rental home and shares the financial burden and festive chores without anyone feeling overburdened with the hosting.  The trick is to work out the location of the celebration far enough in advance so that everyone feels at ease about the plans, eliminating last minute stress and anxiety. 

Sometimes as we age, travel feels overwhelming.  Then we feel it would be better just to stay home. Some of us may feel that we are being marginalized by the younger generation.  We may not know how to work the i-phone or text message, and the conversation moves to pop culture events that are not on our radar.   But, I think it is important to stretch our selves and connect with friends and family over the holiday season.   Studies show we maintain better health in every aspect as we age, if we have strong connections with family and friends.

Remember, one of the challenges of our developmental stage is to embrace the complexities of life. Staying home alone is one of the worst things to do.  The holidays can be a painful time for some of us.  It is the time when suicides tend to rise.  Many seniors fall into depression or turn to alcohol and drugs during the holiday season. St John’s in Oakland always has a Thanksgiving feast for those who are alone at this quintessential American holiday. So find a way to gather with folks to share good cheer and conversation.

Another area of difficulty during the holidays is the challenge of blended families and multiple ex spouses.  Remember, one of the tasks of this stage of life is to embrace the complexities of our lives.   Make careful choices about who will participate in different gatherings.  Don’t assume that it will all just work its way out.  We must think about the dynamics before we organize or attend a family holiday party. 

Our families are multifaceted and challenge us to open our hearts and minds to many different patterns of relationships and interactions. There is no longer one “traditional” family.   We are learning to find a solid sense of family and community by embracing every widening circles of relationship.

 Gifts, too, can be a challenge in these financial stressful times.  Some families exchange names.  Some have stopped exchanging and instead have made a contribution to their favorite charity or cause for instance Kiva. Some decide to give of their time by working in a food kitchen or a drop in shelter. Others donate a needed skill or talent on a pro bono basis. 

Many of us make our presents by hand.  I often begin making knitted holiday gifts at the beginning of the year (I am a slow knitter) and it cuts down on the last minute rush (www.piedmontyarn.com).  I also have the pleasure of reflecting on and appreciating the friends and family members I am knitting for throughout the year.

If you love to purchase your gifts and by doing so are helping the economy at this time, you can double your gift giving impact by going to http://www.goodshop.com/ and purchase your gifts to benefit The Friends of Ruwenzori.

The gift of these hard economic times is to find the true values of the Holiday Season, connection, generosity of self, openness to change and the richness of life.  Are you ready for the challenge?

I would love to hear your thoughts about the holidays as we age.

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4 comments to “3 Holiday Challenges” by Patricia Cavanaugh

  • Kathryn

    Your blog is timely as I have been discussing our Thanksgiving dinner over the past two weeks with my husband and brother. Most of our extended family has spread out and many of my Aunts and Uncles have long since moved on to another divine dining table.

    Now, I find myself struggling to determine who to invite, how to coordinate transportation; who can get up the stairs; who can’t eat salt, or fat, or sugar; which third generation children can’t possible share my genetic code, and what time of day will be right to allow for travel time and still be light enough for those who are visually impaired. It can be fatiguing.

    But, when I get my meal on the table and we start telling stories and the laughter is shared – I know that this is the true “stuffing” of life. My best to you and your families during a season when we can share the continuity of ourselves through the lives we touch.

  • Meredith Stout

    Hi Patricia, thank you so much for your thoughtful blog. I had just received an email from my daughter: “Mom, why don’t you come up for a weekend soon, it’s been so long since we’ve seen you and Thanksgiving seems so far away.” What mom isn’t lucky to have an invitation like that from a daughter (and son-in-law), but my first thought was, ” I don’t know if I have the energy”. My second thought was “I don’t know if I have a free weekend” Sometimes I keep myself so busy I forget to leave room for a visit like this. So I’ll get my energy up and I’ll find some space. What’s more important than our kids? Thanks for your thoughts, Meredith

  • Karen

    Since our younger daughter is a student in NYC with only two days off over Thanksgiving, this is a timely, thoughtful piece. This year, she may not come home on Thanksgiving, so it’s her I worry about, not us older folks. Thanksgiving is also her birthday this year, so it is a double whammy not to celebrate with her. I’m hoping she gets an invitation from someone.
    I do believe in making the effort to see our loved ones – especially as we get older. My in-laws and my dad and his wife have never made much of an effort to come to us. Consequently it’s always been on us to visit them. I’ve vowed over the years that I would be different – more like my mother, who was always willing to come visit us, no matter where we lived.
    As I’ve been trekking all over Manhattan finding things my daughter needs to complete her apt all by myself, I’ve been challenged and it’s been a good thing. Usually my husband,the amazing navigator is with me. It is easy to hunker down sometimes into what is familiar… we forget that we have been and are very capable.
    In finishing, I’d like to point out a series in the NY Times about centenarians. They all make the effort, I notice.

  • I am struck by several key points in the above comments…how we can get ourselves too busy to be able to be spontaneous. I certainly can get myself overscheduled. It is the “too busy syndrome”. Another point that struck me is how important it is to go to visit our kids even when there isn’t the energy or it is challenging to navigate. Thanks Karen and Mededith for your great comments.

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