By Sara G. Stephens
Valentine’s Day is a happy day of celebrating love and romance. But for many elderly people, such ideas are difficult to celebrate. Perhaps they have lost their spouse—due to death or incapacity. For these elderly, a day centered on sweethearts serves only bittersweet memories of yesteryear, when love sprung eternal. Now in the romantic winter of life, the aged often spend Valentine’s Day in sadness, loneliness, or, best-case scenario, absentia.
Alternatively, by inviting an elderly person in your life to be your family’s special Valentine, you can make this day an extraordinary new memory for everyone. Valentine’s Day does not have to be about chocolates, dancing and romantic dinners. There are countless ways to show you care for your special Valentine as a family. Some encourage exercise—mental or physical, and others tap into your Valentine’s lifetime memories, but all offer the best Valentine’s gift of all: the gift of time.
Here are 25 activities to consider sharing with your family’s special Valentine this year and for years to come:
1. The Golden Age of Radio
Gather a collection of music from CDs, MP3s, and even albums, if you have access to a stereo. Let members of the family pick their favorite songs then take turns playing them, introducing each song as a DJ or old-time radio announcer would, and sharing what he or she likes best about the selection. Encourage dancing. If you really want to emulate the Golden Age of Radio, family members can choose to tell jokes, act out a skit, or sing a personal song instead of playing one. You’ll be surprised at how engaged your special Valentine becomes in an activity that involves listening to each other, rather than silently staring at a screen together.
2. Family Recipe Cookbook
Everyone has their favorite recipes, and nobody has more than someone who’s enjoyed many lovingly prepared meals. Have everyone share their tried-and-true recipes. Your special Valentine might have some personal favorites from his own collection or that of a spouse, mother, or grandmother. Try some of the recipes in the kitchen, letting whoever wants to help cook pitch in, and allowing others to supervise from the table, or simply serve as food tasters. The fun thing about cooking the dishes is that you can experiment with the recipes as a family, taking suggestions from all participants for ways to make them either better or just unique to your family. Write the recipes down, copy them, and bind them in your family recipe book, reserving an original copy for your special Valentine, signed by all the cooks of the day.
3. Home Movie
Here’s an activity that lets everyone shine. Download a short script from the Internet, or have the writer in your family create one. Everyone gets screen time, so be sure the script includes roles for all ages and genders, perhaps giving your special Valentine a lead role. Appoint someone to run the camera and another to design settings, wardrobe, etc. Silent black-and-white movies are especially fun to create. Write the dialogue and narration down on pieces of posterboard, and let the whole family get silly with over-animated acting gestures. With no lines to memorize, everyone just gets to have fun. Copy the final movie to DVD and leave it for your special Valentine to watch whenever she wants to warm up with some laughs.
Buy a birdfeeder or a birdhouse—or, better yet, make one with the help of your special Valentine, especially if he’s fond of woodworking. Set up the feeder or house in the backyard. Then relax on the back porch with your Valentine, some lemonade or coffee, a book on birds and a journal, recording all the different birds you see while enjoying each other’s company and a peaceful morning or afternoon.
5. Mixed Media Collage
Show up at your special Valentine’s house with a box full of old magazines, construction paper, photos, trim, or anything you can think of that can be glued into a collage. Your special Valentine will probably have a treasure trove of such items to contribute to your work of art. Include family photos, leaves from the yard, or scrap mementos from occasions marking family achievements. Have everyone sign the collage, and frame it as a gift for your special Valentine. Alternatively, you can create your collages on table-setting pieces of vinyl and decoupage them when you’re done, leaving beautiful placemats for your Valentine that can be enjoyed at every meal.
6. Family Story
Present your special Valentine with a clipboard and a pen. Ask her to begin the story by writing a single sentence on the pad of paper attached to the clipboard. Then have her pass the clipboard to another family member, who will add a second sentence. The clipboard is passed from person to person until the story comes to a conclusion. Everyone’s personality, influences, experiences, and creativity are incorporated into a family story you can all treasure. For extra fun, design an illustration for your story in the same manner, letting your special Valentine begin the drawing then passing the paper around, allowing everyone to add their touches. Then brainstorm an alias or nom de plume you can add to the book jacket as author of the story.
7. Classic Movie Trivia
Let your special Valentine pick out a favorite classic movie. Take some time to watch it before the rest of the family, writing down trivia questions as you watch. Make copies of the questions and gather the entire family around to watch the movie, each member having his own copy of your trivia questions. Watch the movie together and let everyone answer questions from your list while watching the movie. Whoever answers the most questions correctly gets a small prize. More than likely, this will be your special Valentine, but either way, she wins, just by enjoying the experience of sharing her favorite flick with the entire family.
8. Video Interview
Recording a video interview of your special Valentine is a gift for both of you. Your Valentine enjoys the feeling of being valued, of being interesting, and of being noteworthy—a feeling that even the most respected person “back in the day” doesn’t often experience in later years. You gain a priceless chronicle of someone’s life, lessons learned, and perspectives on history you can’t get anywhere else. The best way to do the interview is one-on-one, in a comfortable setting. Set the camera up on a tripod, and just enjoy a relaxing conversation. Be sure you have a list of questions prepared, just to stay on track and be sure you cover everything you want to in the interview. This doesn’t mean you need to cut off your Valentine if her answers meander into a tangential anecdote. It’s often these backroad tales that yield the most tender vignettes of one’s life. Although only two people are actually present for the interview, you can involve your family by having everyone brainstorm questions. The result of this project will become a treasured family record that can be copied and shared with generations to come. Don’t be surprised if the experience generates demand for a sequel, by all parties involved.
9. Road Trip
Rent a minivan, load up the family, and pick up your special Valentine for a day of exploration. This kind of road trip can take many forms. If possible, it can be especially meaningful to drive around an area from your Valentine’s younger years, where he grew up, worked, went to school, or got married. These trips down memory lane open everyone’s eyes to the life your Valentine lived, making it easier to imagine him in a setting when he speaks of his days as a boy, young man, or father. Alternatively, you can take the group on a trip to a place none of you has visited. The shared experience of a new adventure bonds the group in a memory and inspires conversation, along with a sense of wonder and realization that life has much to offer and many new chapters to enjoy.
10. Personalized Wall Calendar
Find or create a customizable wall calendar with print large enough to read by people with poor eyesight. Take it to your special Valentine, and choose pictures together to place as each month’s featured image. Then circle and note dates of birthdays and other special occasions you can all celebrate together. Beside any name, include a phone number, so your Valentine can make phone calls on special days. You can also note days on which your Valentine can expect visits from you and your family. This gives you a chance to brainstorm activities or places to go, and gives your special Valentine something to look forward to every time she glances at the calendar.
If you don’t get around to planning one of these activities, or can’t manage to get the whole family together on the same day, you can still reach out to your special Valentine with a knock on the door, a warm hug, and an afternoon of companionship. Every moment you share will be a box of chocolates.
For more active special Valentines, even more possibilities exist for sharing a meaningful, caring Valentine’s Day:
- Go fishing.
- Go treasure hunting at a yard sale or dollar store.
- Take a train ride.
- Go to a sports game. Be sure to buy a hot dog and soda!
- Go to the county fair.
- Go camping in the great outdoors, or even indoors!
- Take in a museum (art, science, history or whatever your Valentine likes).
- Go for a boat ride (charter, pontoon or canoe).
- Watch a sunrise, a sunset or both (bring coats or blankets).
- Visit a botanical garden.
- Take everyone to the circus.
- Pack a picnic and go to a beach or lake.