Making the Connections

Categories: BLOG | Posted: 03/11/2016 | Views: 901
A reflection by Eildon Dyer of ALTERnativity.


Today I am helping my mother write her Christmas cards. As someone with mild Alzheimer’s who was widowed in the last 2 years and moved to a care home, writing Christmas cards and talking about the people on her list can be a challenging exercise. 
The upside is that this is an opportunity to remind her of people who have been significant in her life and to give her a chance to talk about what she does remember about them. These anecdotes are important for me as I store away fragments of information to act as memory prompts at a later date. 

The downside is that each time she signs her name it reminds her that my dad and her husband of 62 years is no longer here. Mum’s connections are diminishing. The physical connections in her brain are covered in plaque that reduces their functioning. Her social connections are reducing as people of her age die and as she forgets the names of people who visit her. What does remain true is that she loves a visitor no matter who they are.

Increasingly we are becoming aware of the importance of social connectedness. I suspect that instinctively many of us know that to be true but some scientists are now claiming that social connectedness is a greater determinant to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. When we think about improving health we often think about reducing smoking and obesity but not about improving social connection and yet is well documented that those with poor social connections are likely to be more anxious or depressed and this can extend to the cellular level by causing more inflammation and physical illness. 

Being well connected is crucial to our well being and happiness. For some this means having a few strong and significant connections and for others it means having many connections.

Christmas is a time that throws this connectedness into sharp focus. In ALTERnativity, work we have done has shown that for some people the social aspect of Christmas is very challenging.  This can be when you don’t have the people there with whom you would like to socialise or, even worse, when you are forced to socialise with people you would rather not be with! 

Loneliness at Christmas can be very acute. One of the signs of a healthy church is its degree of social connectedness. People look to the church for support in times of difficulty and an aware church will be alert to the wider community in times of difficulty. However Christmas day is frequently a day when many churches are curiously closed. There may be a morning service or mass and then the doors are closed. 

This year Christmas is on a Sunday. How many people in our parishes who are on their own, or who are not on their own but find Christmas difficult, will be wishing that there were people to spend Christmas day with? It’s a challenge we in ALTERnativity have tried to come up with some useful suggestions for. Christmas could provide an opportunity for making new connections in our community or strengthening the ones already there.

This Christmas mum will be with us. It’s a context she understands and it makes her feel secure. It’s evident from our interaction with her that having company improves her physical and mental health. Headaches she has miraculously disappear with a chat and a cup of coffee. This Christmas will be hopefully be a healthy and happy day as she connec

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