By Michelle S. Lazurek, Crosswalk.com
Since I've been married, my husband and I have been away from family for most of the holidays. Because he's also a pastor, there are times when we must stay close to home to have church services. Sometimes we've had to miss special holidays because of the distance. It's not fun to be away from family during the holidays. This is especially true for relatives who may be housebound due to illness, are equally distant from their relatives, or have strained relationships and don't feel they can visit their family for the holidays.
Although relatives might be away from family for the holidays, it doesn't mean they have to be lonely. With some creativity, a relative who can't be present can be the focal point of your holiday. Here are five ways to love relatives who are alone for the holiday:
1. Card Shower
One of my favorite parts of the holidays is giving and receiving Christmas cards. It's so much fun to open the mailbox each day and receive a Christmas letter or card from someone. It is fun to watch friends and family with children and admire how much they've changed in a year. It's also nice to read Christmas letters with special updates from loved ones. Additionally, there have been times when I have been ill when my mailbox was bombarded with cards filled with well wishes from church members and family. It touched my heart to get so many well wishes from people who took time out of their busy schedules to write and send a card just for me. In the same way, we can bless our relatives in their homes for the holidays by bombarding their mailboxes with similar sentiments.
We can use a Christmas card to identify positive character traits we see in those relatives. We can let them know how much they will be missed and why we enjoy having them around for the holidays. Any type of sentiment that can be given during that time to make relatives feel special and loved, even when they're feeling lonely, can touch their hearts deeply. Make a point to use one or two of your Christmas cards to express a special sentiment to those you won't see during the holidays. It may be more of an encouragement than they express and touch their heart more deeply than you know.
2. Bake Their Recipes
Add another special element to the holidays by making their family recipes from relatives. For example, my grandmother made a jelly roll for the holidays. I loved eating her jelly roll because she only made it once a year. In the same way, relatives who cannot visit for the holidays may miss making their special recipes and treats to bless their loved ones. Ask in advance for the relatives' recipes. Tell them you will bake their recipe and share it at the dinner table in their honor. Have a Zoom call or FaceTime with them and share how much you love their recipes. Make sure to point out it is not the same without them, but you're blessed they shared their recipes with the family.
3. Zoom Call
If COVID taught us anything, it's that we live in a wonderful age of technology. Although COVID was a very tough season for all of us, we learned quickly how to use technology to our advantage to stay connected with loved ones. In the same way, relatives who are housebound and can't make it to a loved one's home for the holidays can still be there, even if it's through a computer screen. If applicable, teach the relative how to use Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime from their phone or computer. During dinner, call the relative and allow the relative to eat dinner at the same time. Although it won't be the same as what you experience gathering around the dinner table in person, it will be nice to know that the relative can be there in spirit.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Maurian Soares Salvador
4. Fill Out a Guest Book or Journal
Many years ago, I received a great gift from my first church, where I was the pastor's wife. At a woman's retreat, the women had passed around a journal. In it, they each wrote an entry of how I touched their lives. They presented it to me at the end of the retreat as a thank-you for all the hard work I did to organize it. To this day, I still have that journal on my bookshelf. On difficult days, I pull out that journal and remind myself that I touch more lives than I realize.
For relatives who cannot be there for the holidays, pass around a journal and have each family member write an entry of ways in which that relative has touched their lives. Be sure to highlight their positive traits, quirks, or anything else that makes them unique or special. If they are religious, for example, write a Bible verse that reminds you of this relative or an encouraging verse that will help get them through the hard times. You can also write prayers or any other sentiment that you deem fit.
Any sentiment that comes from the heart and encourages the relative will be of great value. Do this in secret, then have one family member mail the journal to the relative who could not be there. Include a note to let them know they were missed and that this journal is done in their honor. If the relative is ill, especially with a chronic or terminal illness, they will treasure that journal and read it over and over as they appreciate everyone's well wishes and kind words. This is especially true during the Christmas holiday. This will become one of the most treasured gifts, even more so than any wrapped gift you could buy at the store.
5. Take a Photo
In the age of cell phones, cell phones have great cameras, sometimes even better than professional ones. Have the family gather around for a picture. Take several shots, then choose the best one. E-mail, text, or send a photo via mail. You can even go one step further and print out the photo at your local printing shop to get it framed. Send the photo to the loved one who could not be there. Write at the bottom of the frame "Missing You," and let them know the photo is not the same without them. In the same way, they may treasure a journal or a card; they will treasure a family photo of their relatives. You will make them feel like they were there even if they could not physically be there.
Holidays can be difficult, especially for relatives who cannot be there for the holiday season. By taking this advice and finding ways to bless others, your relatives who could not be there will feel more loved and appreciated than ever before. Make the missing guest the highlight and center of your holiday table. This will help them know they were truly missed, appreciated, and valued for their presence in your lives.