Q: My mother now has dementia and is living in a local care facility. This will be the first Christmas when Grandma isn't part of our family celebration. I'm concerned about how to handle this with our kids; do you have any suggestions?
Jim: A few years ago, I went with my two sons to help deliver Christmas gift bags to assisted living centers. One of the first ladies we met was a woman named Helen. She was sitting on the edge of her bed when we walked in, and she was excited to see us. Not just because she was friendly, but because she was lonely. She told us, "I have sons and daughters. But no one in my family visits me anymore."
A lot of elderly people spend Christmas alone. And no group is forgotten more than dementia patients. The disease robs people of their families in more ways than one. Not only does someone with dementia forget who their family and friends are, their loved ones often stop visiting because of it. According to one study, nearly half of family members believe there's no benefit to visiting someone who no longer recognizes them.
But there is a benefit. Even as mental acuity dies, the emotional center of a dementia patient's brain is still very much alive. That means they can feel love even if they're unable to express it back to you.
So this Christmas, if you have a loved one with dementia, pay them a visit and shower them with affection. It's important for everyone in the family -- and especially the children -- to recognize that the person you all love is still present. They're just hidden behind their disease. And even if they can't express love back to you like they once did, they can feel it.
Q: I was supposed to get married this year, but we broke up before the wedding. So once again I'll be single and alone at Christmas. I want to have a good perspective -- can you help?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: There are a lot of moving pieces to a situation like yours, and it's natural to grieve the loss of that particular dream. But you can move on and thrive. Here's my suggestion: maximize your "now" while you anticipate your "later." To do that, remember these three ideas:
First, use your time as a single to prepare yourself. Do you want to marry a mature, wise person with good character? Then be a mature, wise person with good character.
Second, remember that community is vitally important. "Single" shouldn't mean "isolated." Plug into your local church or social groups at work, and stay connected to your family and friends. Great relationships don't just appear; you have to put in some work to cultivate them. For example, rather than just being alone at Christmas, find others who are "solo" (for whatever reason) and organize a celebration.
And last, whatever you do, don't sit around and wait for life to begin. Get involved somewhere. You have opportunities as a single that you wouldn't have if you were married with children. So reach out to others.
The bottom line is this: If you're single, you don't have to feel like you're alone in the stands watching real life take place on the field without you. You can live a rich, full and meaningful life while you wait for that certain someone you want to build a future with. You do that by maximizing your "now" while you anticipate your "later."
By the way, Focus on the Family has an outreach addressing single life from a faith-based perspective; see Boundless.org.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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