Since this year my column falls on Christmas it seems fitting to consider what Christmas and the related holidays, Hannukah, New Years, Kwanzaa mean to us. There is an old song “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays.” What does that mean? What is home when a family member needs to move – maybe to personal care or to a nursing home or maybe just to another family member’s house but that house might be somewhere across the country or world and far away from familiar surroundings and friends.
Pleasure comes with reestablishing old ties. Conflict can come with reminders why some old ties were broken or strained. We miss. We learn. We grow. What is home and how do we know we are there?
We might even drift into another issue as we consider the New Year. Why are we here? What is our purpose?
We want to be happy but what does that mean? Can we find meaning and happiness wherever we are? Home can really be where the heart is.
Viktor Frankl, a prominent Austrian Jewish psychiatrist who spent three years in a Nazi concentration camp discovered that, among those who survived those terrible times, those who found a reason for their living were the ones most likely not to give way to despair. A belief in meaning went deeper than all of that. He included these observations, observations that he also used to keep himself going, in a landmark book published in 1946, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
I know people who live under difficult conditions, even people who are struggling through hospitalizations or living in nursing homes, who are able to find meaning wherever they are. It is amazing what some people can do.
Years before I became an elder law attorney I was a volunteer at a local nursing home. One lady I visited, appropriately named Doris Gayhart, entertained when she spoke. Although, because of a brain injury she was unable to live outside a nursing home for many years, she always kept up her spirits. She did it by listening to other people and sharing her stories. I was not her only non-family visitor. People were glad to come.
We can live in a home where our children were raised and grandchildren play or we could spend holidays in a place where more security and assistance are needed as in a personal care community. We might have many people visit or few with whom to celebrate.
Many feelings compete for our attention. What we expect and what we receive are often two different things and I am not just talking about gift giving. If we expect the perfect turkey dinner or the perfect apology, they may not be there. Appreciation might not lurk under the Christmas tree.
How we deal with the gap between what we have and what we wish we could have helps to define who we are as people. In the movie “Lincoln,” Daniel Day Lewis as the late president repeats an oft cited quote for his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” I expressed somewhat the same idea by saying “We never get to be happy by thinking about what we don’t have.”
If we decide to accept what is and deal with it, while not saying that it is easy or that it is what we want, we are likely to be happier and to look for and find meaning wherever it is whether in giving or learning or somewhere else.
What is home? Home is a place where we feel comfortable, where we can relax and be ourselves. It may be with parents or spouses or partners or children or recent friends or groups.
Nothing will ever be perfect and stay perfect. No one can ever be there all the time even if he or she wants to be.
Traditional families are changing. When we wonder if we are going to be home for the holidays, maybe we already are home and do not realize it and if we cannot be at the place we know as home we can call (or even write or text) and share our thoughts with whoever needs us to be at home with them, too.
Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.