Guest column: Want to spread holiday cheer? Send a letter to an elder.
Personal letters can come few and far between for the residents living at the Dr. Guy Gorman Senior Care Home in Chinle, Arizona.
Diné elders living at the home on the Navajo Nation could see their holiday loneliness eased by a card sent from your home.
Liz McKenzie, Diné, is directing their Christmas spirit to deliver cards to all the elders at the facility and they want your help.
“It’s really important that everyone just stay connected,” McKenzie said. “It’s really easy to feel displaced and lost and lonely, but I think maybe just checking up on each other is a good way to be more connected and just reaching out to someone who hasn’t been reached out to, like an elder, can really change someone’s day.”
The request is very simple.
Get a holiday card and write a nice note to someone.
“It could always use kind of the Diné introduction as a way of reaching out so you know, just like your name and where you’re from and where you live,” McKenzie said.
If you are not the conversationalist type and want to keep your message short, McKenzie said it’s great to create a craft or draw a picture to accompany your card.
“I’ve seen a lot of really neat colored pencil art bits that have been sent in by just regular people or artists disguised as regular people,” they said.
You don’t have to be Diné or Indigenous to join McKenzie’s card drive. They said it’s open to everyone. Often, teachers will give time for their students to make cards for elders with construction paper and glitter.
Once you get your cards and art in order, send it to McKenzie in the mail by Dec. 15 or coordinate with them for a pick up from Albuquerque to hand deliver the letters to elders in Chinle.
It’s a great way for urban Natives to connect back home with their elders.
“I love the Albuquerque community dearly,” McKenzie said. “Seeing all of the really cool and powerful things that we could do together when we work together for a common goal. I’m always blown away by the amount of people who contribute to this project for a little grandma or little grandpa just wrapped up in a blanket in Chinle.”
Connecting to loved ones back home is something that empowers culture and continues tradition.
Larry Curley, Diné, is the director for the National Indian Council on Aging. He said 70 percent of the population his organization works with lives with moments of depression. Letter writing and phone calls are important tools to nourish community, especially during the holiday season.
“Some of the elders are becoming really quite tech savvy. A letter would be great or even a post with a Christmas card to grandma saying, ‘Miss you Grandma, I wish you were here in Spain with me.’ NDN people are all over the world these days and some of them are in the armed forces and they’re stationed in other parts of the world.”
Curley said a great ice-breaker is to start asking about the weather, see if your elders are staying warm this winter. He says ask them about memories, bring up moments you shared or people you know.
“There are different ceremonies that occur during this time of year and by reaching out to your elders it reinforces the culture and the ceremonies that are traditional,” he said.
As Curley likes to say call your grandparents, if you can, not just during the holiday season.
If you want to let another elder know that someone has them in their thoughts during the holiday, then write a letter for McKenzie to deliver to residents in Chinle.
“Our elders raised us,” McKenzie said. “They pass on traditional knowledge and they are the core of our Indigenous identity and who we are with the language and ceremony practices. If there’s anything that strangers could do to at least a tiny bit lessen any sort of feeling of loneliness, that’s what this project is all about.”
Journalist, Source New Mexico