How to Show Love and Support to At-risk Relatives Over the Holidays

After eight years as a trauma social worker at Ocala Medical Center in Florida, Andy Millar ’98 has seen just how much family support influences an individual’s recovery. In the wake of a car crash, serious fall, fire, brain injury or violent crime, Millar is often the first person to talk to a patient’s relatives, moments after a patient is wheeled into the trauma center. As such, he’s helped guide families through some of their most tragic and life-altering moments. “Family support makes a huge difference,” he says. “Taking an interest in someone can change their mood, their outlook and, in some cases, their life.”

While we may not have family members in the hospital during the winter holidays, it’s very possible that we have at least one family member or friend who falls into the “higher risk” categories outlined by the CDC. Maybe they have an underlying health condition, a weakened immune system, a new baby, a new pregnancy or employment at a high-contact job. Or maybe they are feeling convicted to self-isolate. Whatever the reason, there are many ways we can show our love and support to our relatives and friends from a safe distance over Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year.

Here are a few of Millar’s ideas:

Swap Personalized Playlists

Millar’s mom is 80 years old. He can’t see her for a few reasons. 1) Her age puts her in the at-risk group. 2) He works in a hospital and comes into contact with a lot of people. This will be her first Thanksgiving alone, so Millar wants to go out of his way to make it special for her.

His plan is to ask his mom to make a playlist of all of the songs she liked to listen to when she was a teenager. He’s going to do the same. Then, once they’re both done with their personalized playlists, they will share them with each other. That way over the holidays, they can listen to a loved one’s favorite songs and learn something new about each other in the process of being apart.   

Do a Collaborative Art Project by Mail

If his dad was still alive, Millar says he would try a collaborative family art project. His dad was an artist and would have loved the opportunity to work on a painting or photo collage as a family. Think Flat Stanley or Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The first step would be to make or purchase a canvas and either start a collage or a painting. Then, once it’s dry, you can ship the canvas to a friend or relative and they can add to what you’ve created. When that relative is done, they can continue the trend and ship the canvas to another family member. The idea is that each person contributes something to the final masterpiece.

Provide Some Much-needed Comic Relief

If he was in the hospital right now or in a situation where he’d be spending the holidays alone, Millar says he would want someone to make him laugh. He says, “When my own friends are going through a tough time, I try to think of things that will lighten their mood.” While it’s important to create a safe space where loved ones can share their fears and frustrations, very few things are as bonding as laughter. They say “laughter is the best medicine” for good reason. It actually releases a chemical that makes our blood vessels relax and helps us to live longer. It’s a good antidote for loneliness and stress—two things many are very familiar with in this season of life.

Take a Virtual Exercise Class Together

Before the pandemic started, Millar’s 80-year-old mom was pretty active. She went to the gym three times a week and even travelled internationally. But now she hardly leaves the house. It makes Millar nervous because, as a health professional, he knows how crucial it is to continue exercising as you age. “It’s something I worry about,” he says. “I’ve seen how regular exercise affects elderly people when they’re in the hospital. People who are conditioned do better than people who are not. The best thing you can do at her age is to be active because you lose so much, so quick.” One solution Millar came up with is to take a virtual exercise class with his mom. He knows she loves Tai Chi, and there are a lot of options for virtual exercise classes. Truthfully, a lot of us are less active than we used to be—regardless of age—so it’s something we can all benefit from.

Do a Virtual Airbnb Experience

Speaking of virtual family experiences, you have to check out Airbnb. Millar says he’s just discovered an online cooking class that would be perfect for him and his mom to take over the holidays. Here are some other virtual experiences you can surprise your relatives with:

  • Book a Virtual Mystery Escape Room in Krakow, Poland, for the entire family. Right now they are even offering a special Christmas mystery that involves saving Santa Claus.
  • Take a Pasta Cooking Class with Italian Grandmothers in Palombara Sabina, Italy. Learn how to cook an authentic Italian pasta from five grandmother/granddaughter duos. Choose from seven recipes, one for each day of the week. *Vegan and gluten free options available.
  • Sing Holiday Songs with a Broadway Star in New York City. If your family has a tradition of singing carols or going to Broadway shows over the holidays, this could be a great alternative. The host of this virtual event is currently cast as Scar in the Broadway production of The Lion King and has also performed as part of The Phantom of the Opera and The Producers.
  • Learn Some Sleight of Hand from a Real Magician in Berkhamsted, United Kingdom. This is one-part magic show, one-part magic class. In addition to watching the host perform, you’ll learn a few tricks of your own. This is a great option for families with young children.

We hope these ideas inspire you to stay safe and connected to the people you love in the days and months to come. Happy Thanksgiving!