The holidays are a time of immense duality; on the one hand, you have the intense materialism of Black Friday hitting just after the (hopefully) spiritual gratitude of Thanksgiving. On the other hand, that intense materialism should be the foundation of another deeply spiritual event: the gift-giving of Christmas.
For our honored elders, the holidays can be a time of immense sadness, a reminder of how distant their loved ones and treasured memories are. This is one of the reasons it is so important to pay attention to our seniors’ spiritual health during the holiday season.
What is Spiritual Health?
Spiritual health is most effectively measured in four dimensions:
Your sense of community;
The values that guide and shape your life;
Your sense of purpose;
The connection between your inner life and at least one thing greater than yourself.
A spiritually healthy individual exists within a supportive community; acting according to both their inner compass and their valued purpose within that community.
Why Senior Spiritual Health is Shaky During the Best of Times
Americans have a horrific tendency to value people economically. Not only do we claim confidently that CEOs deserve to make millions of dollars because they are more valuable to a company than cashiers, but we say with equal confidence that the human value of a cashier is less than the CEO as demonstrated by their lower income. Even if we do not say it that way, enough of us treat the cashier so poorly that the message is conveyed quite effectively by our actions.
Imagine what this means for someone who has been told by the fact of retirement that they are no longer economically viable. Add to that the fact that, for the vast majority of seniors, their families are distant and their friends are passing away at an alarming rate. This means two of their four pillars of spiritual health (purpose and community) are rapidly disappearing for our aging loved ones.
The Holidays Arrive
By their very nature, the holidays are a time of spiritual duality, which has a tendency to throw everything going on in one’s spiritual life into higher contrast. This alone can be harmful to the spiritual health of a senior — but this is only the beginning. The spiritual questions that crop up around the holidays are even more damning.
Watching your children bicker and fight over Black Friday deals or who is paying for your (lonely) Christmas dinner can easily lead to questions about how well your value system really works. After all, if your children’s values are obviously failing, and they learned from you…?
And then there are the bigger questions posed by the commercialism of once-sacred days such as All Hallows Eve, Thanksgiving, and the big one, Christmas. How could the powers that be allow such spiritual moments to be tainted so profoundly? What if the answer is because they are not what you think they are?
And suddenly, the values and connections that are propping up the already-shaky spiritual health of our aging loved ones are vanishing. The result is a cascade of negative effects that ripple from spiritual health to emotional health to mental health to physical health; potentially causing depression, symptoms of dementia, and weakening the immune system. It is a dire condition, and one that can (and should) be avoided.
Spiritual Health During the Holidays
Fortunately, there are simple and easy ways that we can avoid the scenario discussed above. So easy, in fact, that most of us never stop to consider how easy they actually are. It all comes down to social support.
Take the time to make your honored elder part of your life, even if it is just for a week. Talk to them, and give them (back) the community that is their family. Remind them that they still hold a purpose in the lives they helped create. Show them the best side of yourselves, and show them that the values they hold dear are still strong in their children and grandchildren.
Do this, and the questions your aging loved ones ask about the powers that be will never be asked in the first place. More importantly, you can show your brothers and sisters, children, nephews and nieces that those who came before you are valued — and valuable.
If distance and money make getting together impossible, you can still connect with them as best you can. Skype is a wonderful thing, and while hugs and handshakes are obviously better, any contact is better than no contact at all. Make an advent calendar of chats with your loved elders. Keep them spiritually strong, and their heart, mind, and body will thank you.