Color & Control:

Family Time

Making the most of family gatherings…even when things have changed


By Deb Jenkins


cs-famtimeA good time can be had by all generations in the extended family unit at celebratory gatherings. However, changes are often necessary in order for all family members to remain in touch and  feel included on special occasions.

It may be that a grandparent has moved into a retirement residence or a long-term care home, or that someone has passed away, leaving the other spouse alone. Perhaps an aunt is no longer able to drive a car and get to family functions on her own. Is accommodation needed for a wheelchair or other mobility devices? Sons, daughters and grandchildren may move to another town or city, which can create travel and scheduling issues. And a variety of dietary needs might require attention ahead of time. All of these considerations can alter the familiar “look” of family get-togethers and require some “solution finding.”

Possibilities for change
There are a number of options for creating pleasurable gatherings when some of the above changes to the extended family unit have occurred.

There are many options for transportation, but one of the nicest ones can be to have either one of the children or grandchildren pick up their relatives and drop them back after the get-together is over, if it is in the same city/town. If the distance is greater, arrangements can be made for the elder family member to take a taxi to public transportation such as bus or train. Consider an escort if that will make things easier. Train fares booked ahead can be purchased from Via Rail at a senior’s discount, or consider using Via Preference points if someone in the family is a member. Ask for a volunteer to wait at the train station to give the traveller a ride and to help with luggage and/or parcels. What a nice feeling to be met by a loved one at the train or bus terminal!

If the elder family member is up to it, bring the gathering to them. The time-frame may need to be shortened to be manageable and not too noisy or tiring. For ease of food preparation, younger family members can be responsible for bringing pre-cooked meals in for the occasion or even changing things completely from tradition and ordering in! Why not make it a movie or game night? The best part is your loved one won’t need to face a long ride home after the visit.

You might consider moving the occasion to a facility that caters to family gatherings or to a restaurant that has a private room set aside for larger functions. This is especially helpful if the family get-togethers such as seasonal holidays have always been held at the elder family member’s home in the past. Personal touches can be brought in to the restaurant or facility to make it feel more
‘homey’; consider adding balloons, your loved one’s favourite flowers, table decorations and a compact disc player for background music. Try including a Secret Santa game or giving out prizes to keep everyone, young and old, engaged.

If one of the elder members of the family has been admitted to either a retirement home or long-term care home, it might be possible to hold a family gathering there as well. Most homes provide space for a private gathering, and food can be served from the home if arranged ahead of time. Bring in your own decorations, food and disposable serving dishes.

No matter what change has occurred to the family dynamic, it’s important to discuss it openly as family, and find an idea that works best for all. Try something different for each special occasion until the best solution is found, as sometimes giving it a try is the only way to know for sure. Keeping connected with the older person who may be alone and making everyone feel a part of the family, are important for emotional well-being. Be sure to include the your loved one’s thoughts and allow them to be part of the planning.

Deb Jenkins, RN, BScN, MN is a long-term care nurse. She can be reached at


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