The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve are looked forward to by many. Some people start looking forward to the next year’s holiday as soon as the clock has struck midnight on the current year. However, for many seniors across the country these typically joyous times of year can bring waves of grief. This is especially true for veterans.
Grief can take many forms, as everyone is different. For veterans, grief can be deep. Perhaps they witnessed friends fall in battle and regardless of the number of years that have passed, the holidays can make that grief and pain seem fresh. During the holidays, it is important to understand how to help our veterans, young and old, to cope with their grief.
Veterans in their senior years may feel anxious and nervous when anticipating holiday gatherings and celebrations. The veteran may be grieving or dealing with one of many different psychological conditions that can result from war. Veteran’s caregivers and families can do a great deal to make it easier for them.
While it is important to make sure that senior veterans have plenty of company during the holidays and to give them a strong show of love and support, it is also important to respect unique grieving processes. Avoid platitudes and always be honest with the veteran. “I can’t know how you feel, but I’m willing to do whatever will make this day easier for you,” is much more sincere and supportive than “I know how you feel.”
When thinking about family celebrations, make sure there is a place and time for the veteran to be by themselves. Some time alone can do a world of good for anxious veterans who need to “recharge” during a large gathering.
Family members can help veterans with their holiday shopping, or do it for them. Avoiding the mad rush of the Christmas season can help keep the stress level of older veterans to a minimum.
Respecting the past of a senior veteran is the most effective way of understanding their feelings. Today, only a small fraction of the population is in the armed services, let alone on the front lines of combat. That makes it difficult to understand what lives in the hearts and minds of senior veterans and the extent of the loss they have suffered. If they didn’t see their friends die on the battlefield, they certainly have lost them over the years to age and illness.
Reach out to senior veterans who may not have loved ones to spend the holidays with. A local VA office can help you. Also, a quick call to senior centers and facilities can help identify an older veteran in need of some company this holiday season.