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What a difference an ornament makes

I spent the weekend with my mom and daughter. As I began the five hour drive I was wondering what in the world I was thinking. My house is a mess, my decorations aren’t even out of the basement, there’s no tree. I don’t even have a gift buying list made – speak nothing of actually purchasing and wrapping gifts. I didn’t send cards last year so I have to get that accomplished this year! We have such a fun weekend planned, I know I will enjoy it. But Monday it’s back to work … My mind races. When will I get all these “things” accomplished?

The day at Mom and Dad’s was of course wonderful. I helped Mom finish the decorations on the tree. As I took each one out of the box, of course the memories come flooding back. “And that one” she said “is from Katelin. She made it in school and gave it to me. She gave me an ornament every year. We laughed and talked about the macaroni arm that was missing. It brought on conversations about various family members and “how they’ve grown” and what they are up to. All because of the ornaments – memories flood back/conversations flow.

The next day at my daughters was a scurry! We started by going for a run (yes I’m in my daughter’s world now!) We never took off our sweat suits as we rushed around for hours putting up trees, making pine bouquets, and getting lights in the window boxes. We need to get everything done today, as we have dinner out with friends tonight and guests in our house tomorrow. Perfect beautiful decorations set in just the right places — oops move this to here — now the perfect place! “This little tree needs to stay right here. I just love these Christmas balls. Pete’s Mom gave them to me and aren’t they just beautiful?” The conversation begins, how’s Pete’s family? What are they up to? What a difference an ornament makes.

From the calm and peaceful environment at my Moms to the scurry and busy life of my daughter, I find myself trying to be “comfortably” somewhere in the middle. I certainly have given up some of the “it has to be perfect” expectations of my daughter, and I still learn from my Mom that the memories, the people that are represented in the ornaments are what she thinks of. I remind myself that “comfortably in the middle” should mean that having the ornaments in place is important so that those around can connect, have conversations, and revisit memories. The relationships are more important than the jobs I have not accomplished. Ouch!

Especially for seniors, the difference an ornament can make! An example was this year’s local Be A Santa to A Senior program. Sixteen trees with more than 600 ornaments on them were out around the community. Shoppers took ornaments, bought gifts for that possibly lonely, definitely, well deserving senior. Volunteers wrapped all the gifts and then delivered them Monday. The smiles, the hugs, the conversations delivered around the community were the difference an ornament makes.

We’ve learned that the time spent, the memories revisited are so very important for seniors at what could be a very lonely time of the year. This indicates that they may be missing something that may be difficult to put a bow on: companionship. Many seniors, including those in care communities, may have no one to visit them during the holidays this year as families cut travel expenses and treasured family time. Loneliness could be a big problem. So the most valuable gift that a senior could get would be that of companionship.

Below is a gift guide of presents that was developed with that in mind. The following ideas are thought to be able to strengthen family bonds and truly make for a memorable holiday gift for that senior on your list:

1. A family pass to a water or amusement park. Seniors love activities with their children. Even if they can no longer be a part of water activities or rides, they will enjoy treating their grandchildren to an afternoon of fun.

2. Pet walking. Create a gift certificate for pet walking services. Encourage a senior to join the walk if he or she is able.

3. A newspaper subscription. Some of a senior’s fondest memories could revolve around life at the dinner table discussing the day’s events. A subscription to a daily newspaper can help that senior continue that tradition with family.

4. DVD player and favorite DVDs. A DVD player will help an older adult enjoy his or her favorite old movies. Bring the popcorn and make a night of it.

5. Large-button phone.Seniors with families who live a long distance will want to communicate with them through the ease of a phone call. Look for phones with large buttons and loud ringers.

6. Folding table and chairs. Seniors love to work on puzzles. Join a loved one on that special project with the gift of a folding table and chairs.

7. A computer and the training to go with it. Many seniors have discovered the wonder of the Internet, emailing families across the country and even joining Facebook. A gift of a computer can help them do that, but remember that they will need to be trained if they are not computer savvy.

8. Materials for a scrapbook. What better activity for a rainy afternoon than to help a senior create a scrapbook of pictures and stories that can be passed down the generations.

9. Membership to a local forest, nature center or museum. A membership to a museum, forest or nature center can help families continue to make great memories.

10. Gift certificates to a favorite restaurant. Buy a gift certificate that a senior can use for lunch out at his or her favorite restaurant with a family member or close friend. If families can’t be there with an older loved one, remember that the next best thing is the gift of companionship services.

If you’re still looking for a gift for a senior in your life, think creatively and try to come up with ideas that will help seniors make the most of family time. Remember that older adults will likely value a gift that keeps them connected to the people they love the most. When you wrap the gift, maybe attach an ornament. What a difference an ornament can make!

DEB CRANNY is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.