It is just two weeks until Christmas day. For many people Christmas is a positive time spent with close family and friends. However for some older people, particularly those who have recently lost a partner or spouse, it can be a particularly emotional time of the year. The Royal Voluntary Service (http://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk) reports that many older people are likely to be alone over the Christmas period.
My research with older widows ( http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0144686X13000329) illustrates that Christmas represents a poignant marker during transition, it is a time to look back but also a time to look forward with the coming of a New Year. The women’s diverse and often complex experiences demonstrate the impact later life widowhood has on relationships, roles and family practices.
So what is helpful at this time of year? The experiences of the older women in my study, suggest that the continuity of relationships with family and friends, as well as having a sense of personal autonomy all contribute to the management of change. Taking an active part in celebrations, including sending and receiving Christmas cards, seems to help people feel connected and part of their personal and wider communities.
Community Christmas (http://communitychristmas.org.uk) is an organisation that supports local communities in organising Christmas events for older people who would otherwise be alone. I was contacted by Community Christmas founder Caroline Billington after she read about my research with older widows. I was invited to speak about my research at an event ‘Understanding Loneliness: the challenge of Christmas’ in February 2014 organised by the Campaign to End Loneliness and Independent Age (http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/the-challenge-of-christmas). This event included speakers and delegates from various organisations: Silver line, Community Christmas, Crisis at Christmas, The Abbey field Society and Waitrose.
This year staff and student volunteers at the University of Salford are inviting local older people who would otherwise be alone to join us for Christmas lunch (http://staff.salford.ac.uk/newsitem/4170).
Wishing you and yours a merry Christmas.
Dr Tracy Collins