This very common occurrence can cause major distress for many families. It is difficult to understand why a loving family can sometimes turn on those that love them, but it is unbelievably common. This all becomes more apparent around Christmas time. Being isolated or forgotten at Christmas is all to common an occurrence and causes sadness, heightens loneliness and increases anxiety especially among the elderly.
While it is rare for all family members to be involved in the discourse, but the power of one person can cause immense stress to many. Often the reason the fracture has occurred gets distorted over time with the original cause of the discourse forgotten but this impasse continues. The passage of time does not heal, it just festers all the more.
However, for the parent, this is very distressing and very difficult to deal with. They often have to bear this on their own or they may discuss it with other family members to try and get some sense of the situation and achieve some sense of understanding. Either way, the effect on the parent’s health is insurmountable.
While the study of pyscho-immunolgy, or the effect of stress on the immune system, is a relatively new science, there is no doubt the prolonged emotional stress of family discord will impact significantly on the physical body eventually. You can see more on the effects of stress on the body here.
Now it used to be considered that older people suffered less from anxiety and depression, but this is now known to be untrue. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in USA, affecting an estimated 40+million people.
While traumatic events like falls or acute illness may often trigger anxiety, the effects of long-term family discord will always lead to conditions or situation which may even lead to the fall or acute illness in a person. So, the effects of prolonged stress do affect the person’s ability to remain healthy and active. See more here.
So, what are the signs of anxiety and distress in the elderly? Well there are the common things like withdrawing from society, crying, insomnia, anger and so forth but for more information on the symptoms.
If your parent is showing any of the symptoms, look at what is happening or has happened in their life especially within the family. You see, a parent will do anything for their child, no matter how old that child is. It is something they never let go of. Yes, they may not have been a perfect parent in the eyes of the child, but it is important to recognise they did the best they could with the skill set that they had.
When a child marries or takes a partner another dynamic is thrown into the mix. The partner may or may not have grown up with the same values and beliefs, but it is important that this partner does not make the parent wrong. What does need to happen though is the adult child must always remember whatever the parent has done they have done out of love. Rarely is their malice intended and the partner also needs to consider the “other family” as well as their own.
The role of adult child is to protect and speak up for on behalf of the parent as the parent no doubt did for them when they were a child. You see for most people, when you were a child you adored your parent. You didn’t see their short comings, just the love they had for you and the way they guided you.
When you become a teenager, you hated your parent. They were unreasonable in your eyes when they were only guiding and protecting you to be safe and to enter the world of adult hood.
As an adult your parent had prepared you for life and you wanted to make it on your own. Your parent became less important in your life and, dare I say it, a little bit irritating as by this time you were able to think for yourself and objected to any influence they had on your life. The parent had done their job, but they may not always know it, because you are still their child and they want to continue to love you, guide you and protect you.
When they are old and frail they may become a burden on you, your life and your family but one thing is for sure, when they are gone, you will miss them.
So, it is Christmas time now. While this should be a time of families getting together, for many it is not. All they are left with is their memories. They are often at the bottom of the list of importance in their child’s life – they have their own family(s) and Mum, or Dad are not so important now. They get fitted in to their child’s time schedule unaware of the impact of not seeing them or joining in Christmas celebrations has on their parent.
So, have some compassion for your parents. Mend the rifts that may be plaguing your family so when the time comes to say goodbye you will be free from any regrets. Be proud that you did not contribute to your parents decline through sickness caused by stress and anxiety. Help them to be the best they can be by giving back to them what they gave you – love. Be a good example to your children and show them how to be a good child as an adult because you never know how your children, or their partners, will treat you.
Also have some compassion for those in your care who are alone with only their memories at Christmas and remember it is not a joyous time for everyone.
Now it is not all doom and gloom. If you can find 13 minutes to listen to this wonderful video on 3 centenarians and even show it to those who are feeling sad at Christmas it might uplift them. Very inspiring.