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Mom and daugter painting easter eggs

Celebrating Easter when Grandparents Are Safe but Distant

Holidays like Easter are usually the perfect time for families and close friends to come together. They’re all about connection: connection between people in the present, and connection, through traditions, with people in the past. These connections are all the more important for loved ones who have dementia.


But this Easter, the theme seems to be just the opposite: isolation and distance. How can we foster connections with loved ones and with traditions while taking precautions to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19? Here are some ideas:

1. Use videoconferencing to share a special meal, but understand that this medium can be difficult for older people. Glitchy connections, audio lag, and too much motion can cause confusion. To prevent frustration, try these tips:

  • Set up the phone or computer in one place instead of holding it;
  • Explain to your loved one beforehand by phone what to expect. The experience will be something in between a taped recording and actually being there;
  • Ask people to take turns speaking, at least for a small part of the event; 
  • Plan to have a phone call in addition to the streaming video so that your loved ones can more easily talk to one person at a time.

For someone with advanced dementia, familiarity is a comfort

2. Encourage your loved ones to stream a religious service, and opt for familiar over exotic. Opt for streamed over recorded, too, for a stronger sense of connection.

3. Dress up for the streamed service. It’s amazing how putting on dress shoes makes it feel like a real occasion.

4. Let traditional foods inspire memories. Traditions are a way of stitching the years together. Even if no one ever really liked Aunt Debbie’s pineapple and marshmallow Jello salad, nothing’s more powerful for bringing back memories than a food you only have once a year. Especially for someone with advanced dementia, familiarity is a comfort.

5. Connect with the spiritual meaning of the holiday. Take some time before the streamed service to set the mood by reading a sacred text or singing an appropriate hymn. If your loved one has a favorite prayer, recite it together.

6. Take a moment to think about, or talk about, gratitude, calling to mind the blessings of the year even amidst hardship. At the same time, be sure to acknowledge the legitimacy of the grief your loved ones may be feeling at missing out on the traditional gathering. Gratitude and grief can coexist and should not be made to compete with each other.

7. Be inclusive of all ages. Make sure you take time to listen to older members of the family as they share their thoughts and experiences. And remember that they may take pleasure in learning what the younger generation is doing. You can still admire beautifully decorated easter eggs with a video display.  While you prepare to make Easter gifts for children, make it a project for the kids to help make a special gift for grandparents, baskets, cards, and treats are always welcome.

8. Start some new traditions. While you can’t be in church,  sing a familiar hymn or do a family reading of a sacred text, poem, or story at home. Put together photos from Easter day of past years and share them with your extended family electronically.