Ask the Expert: Over the River and Through the Woods – To Grandma’s apartment?

by Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

Our family has always gathered at my grandmother’s house for the holidays. Last year my grandmother moved into a care facility and my mom does not have the extra room to host me and my siblings. We have discussed renting space to have our family gathering, but it just doesn’t seem the same. How can we capture the spirit of the holiday my grandmother worked so hard to establish when so much seems to be changing?

Grandparents are often the gatekeepers of tradition. They create that sense of nostalgia that we all long for at the holidays. Many of us have memories of a favorite meal, dessert, book, movie or tradition that reminds us of just how special time with family and friends can be. Time together with different personalities may not always be easy for families, but somehow it grounds us and renews our spirit. These memories are often the glue that holds families together and keeps them coming back to gather year after year.

As family members age and dynamics change, we often find that we miss these experiences the most. It becomes important to find new ways to incorporate traditions of the past with traditions of the future. Now that your grandmother is in a facility, you can no longer gather at her house, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recreate some of the togetherness that made it special. Make a list of things that you remember the most. Were there things she made, stories she told or games you played, or was it just spending time together? If you look over your list, chances are there are some things you can incorporate into your new traditions. It is very important to record information while you can. Ask for family recipes, record family stories, look through old photos and make notes about people and places. Many of these things can become an activity or project you do with your mother and grandmother. Write down the memories that mean the most to you.

When considering where to have your holiday get-together, think about someplace convenient to those who will be coming. It might be that your mom can’t house everyone, but she can host a meal and you all can look for hotels or housing close by. The care facility may also offer space that your family could use, and this would allow your grandmother to fully participate. Another option is to rent someplace that has gathering space, like a cabin in the mountains or a house at the beach. This would help establish a new tradition and you could still incorporate those favorite cookies, games, music, movies and books that made it special in the first place. Have each family member bring one thing they remember and, before you know it, it will all feel familiar.

Keep in mind that the physical space is just one component. It is the togetherness that you will remember. It may take a little more effort to establish new routines, but time marches on and you and your family can embrace the change and pass the torch of gatekeeper to the next generation. The traditions established can be passed through the generations and they will transcend the changes life is sure to bring.

Readers may send questions to Amy Natt, an Aging Life Care ProfessionalTM, certified senior advisor and CEO of Aging Outreach Services. She can be reached at amyn@agingoutreachservices.com .