This is Donna Bosch’s fourth Christmas at Holy Cross Manor but her first without her husband of 45 years, who passed away in August.
“That’s going to be different. It’s going to be difficult,” says Donna. “His birthday’s Dec. 31. December’s kind of a bad month.”
Donna’s approach has been to keep busy and enjoy the holiday activities — from watching virtual Christmas concerts to participating in an ongoing game of holiday hangman — that are organized for residents at the Covenant Care home in Calgary. One of the highlights for her was a bus tour to see the Christmas decorations along Calgary’s Candy Cane Lane organized by recreation therapist Jackie Allen.
“Every house was decorated on both sides with candy canes in the yards. And the houses were all decorated in lights and that. Jackie had the nice music going in the bus,” says Donna, adding that staff also showed a video to residents who didn’t want to go on the tour so they were able to experience it later.
Another favourite was a virtual visit with volunteers from the Outdoor Council of Canada. They shared videos of their outdoor excursions, from hiking at Lake O’Hara to biking through Kananaskis. Donna and other residents enjoyed reminiscing with the volunteers about places where they used to hike or camp.
“This group was really fun. They used to come in and play games with us, but now they can’t come in. So they did this, and it was really good.”
Jackie says recreation staff have also prepped activity packs with word puzzles or colouring pages for residents who are isolating or prefer to spend more time in their suites. Staff go through the neighbourhoods distributing seasonal treats like hot chocolate and apple cider. And they’re arranging a full schedule of virtual visits with loved ones over the Christmas long weekend.
Donna appreciates having the option to enjoy so many activities, especially as she celebrates her first Christmas without her husband.
“This is all helping. It’s really helping,” says Donna. “What I’m trying to do is keep busy so it doesn’t bother me. Christmas will be the bad day, but I’m going to get through it because I think that’s what he would want me to do.”
Delivering Christmas cheer to Villa Caritas
At Villa Caritas, every patient is getting a handmade Christmas card this year.
In-person volunteering has been suspended at the Covenant Health geriatric mental health facility since the start of the pandemic. Volunteer coordinator Espie Alvez knew that patients were missing that interaction, so she emailed her volunteers to see if they could send personalized cards to patients.
“We want them to feel that there is someone who is personally caring for them this Christmas,” says Espie. “We’re hoping it can add to the spirit of Christmas for them.”
Volunteers were eager to pitch in. They made 140 cards for patients at Villa Caritas and another 80 for a few units at the Misericordia Community Hospital. The cards were submitted earlier this month so they could be quarantined before being distributed in the days leading up to Christmas.
“They’re really beautiful, handcrafted. Some painted, and some did cut and paste,” says Espie. “They’re really beautiful.”
Espie says the messages in the cards are thoughtful and touching, even though most of the volunteers don’t know the patient they’re writing to.
“On Christmas, you look forward to something special. And being able to facilitate that is very important to me.”
Holiday hunting at Killam Health Centre
It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine. For some residents, that involves shooting toy darts at members of their care team.
Members of the recreation team at Killam Health Centre recently wore antlers and hid behind Christmas trees while inviting residents to take aim at them with Nerf guns.
“They just had a ball with that,” says rehabilitation assistant Kelby Erickson. “One resident was laughing so hard she was crying.”
Annual holiday traditions at the Covenant Health site have been safely adapted. Staff scaled down the cardboard gingerbread-house-decorating competition and made smaller teams. Residents have also enjoyed virtual Christmas light tours and played holiday-themed Scattergories via FaceTime with residents from a long-term care centre in nearby Galahad. And the site is continuing its annual Christmas “glamour shots,” in which each resident has their photo taken in front of the Christmas tree, and the photo is shared with their loved ones.
Staff and residents are also starting a new tradition. They used a community donation to make personalized Christmas ornaments for residents to hang on the tree every year. In future years, when those residents are gone, the ornaments will go on a memory tree to remember them.
Some adjustments are decided spontaneously. For the annual reindeer toss, staff usually wear antlers while residents try to land their rings on one of the points. This year, resident Art Collier was a last-minute volunteer, and he embraced the role.
“He wore it for the day. He just went with it and loved it,” says Megan Kennedy, recreation therapy aide. “Usually, a staff wears them, but it was perfect. Art had a great time, and everyone enjoyed throwing the rings at him.”
Have a story to share about health care? An idea for an article? We value all contributions.