Finding Light During a Blue Christmas

As songs of joy and cheer fill the air, not everybody greets the holiday season with jolliness.

Even in the midst of celebration, some seniors experience a feeling of depression referred to as Blue Christmas.

While there are lots of things to love about the holidays, some seniors may struggle with the season. Health problems or mobility challenges may keep them from participating fully in certain holiday traditions. They may have lost loved ones who made the season special.

In these cases, Christmas and other holidays can be a reminder of what has been lost.

“For some people, they’re not where they want to be,” says Sarah Sjaaheim, director of social services and admissions at Eventide Fargo.  “Maybe they needed to move where they could receive more care. It’s not what they imagined for Christmas, much less for their future. They’re mourning.”

Holiday depression can happen at any age, but seniors are especially prone to it if they have suffered serious physical challenges, lost a loved one, or lost their social network.

In addition, the cold, dark days of winter mean many elders don’t go outside as much. Ice and snow can make getting anywhere, including medical appointments, difficult. This contributes to feelings of isolation and sadness.

At all Eventide campuses, staff regularly screen residents to make sure depression doesn’t go unnoticed, Sjaaheim says. If residents are struggling in the wintertime, staff may recommend the use of a Sad light or aromatherapy. Residents will be encouraged to meet with a chaplain and to participate in appropriate exercise. If necessary, medication may be prescribed.

“We look at how we can help our residents cope with where they’re at,” Sjaaheim says.

At times that is as simple as offering a listening ear.

“Some of our residents just want to be heard,” Sjaaheim says. “They want to know it’s okay to feel sad. And, it is.”

Over the holiday season, Eventide campuses host resident Christmas parties and encourage residents to participate in traditions like decorating, baking cookies and watching favorite seasonal movies.

At Eventide Fargo, gifts are purchased so that every resident receives something personalized – even if they don’t have family and friends nearby. Thanks to suggestions from the resident council, Eventide Fargo even serves holiday meals family-style, bringing warmth to special holidays.

“We make things feel as cozy as possible,” Sjaaheim says.

Family and friends also can help loved ones in a senior community adjust to changing realities.

If possible, invite your loved one to participate in as many holiday activities as possible. Send cards and letters.

If he or she can’t leave an assisted living or long-term care residence, you can help make the holidays more joyful. Attend holiday activities and parties at their residence. Join them for a holiday meal.

Be sure to bring them something that symbolizes a favorite holiday tradition. For example, if your family always makes lefse, bring a plate of the special treat. If your family tradition is belting out Christmas carols, spend time singing together.

Above all, don’t feel guilty or bad if your loved one doesn’t embrace your efforts with enthusiasm, Sjaaheim says. Visits from family and friends can be another reminder that things have changed, that old family Christmas traditions will be no longer. That said, don’t stop visiting.

“Enjoy the time you have together,” Sjaaheim says and then offers good advice for everyone during the holidays: “Don’t stress too much.”

41 Years Later, Char Guthmiller Continues to Touch Lives as Nurse at Eventide Jamestown

On October 19, 1977 Char Guthmiller started her nursing career as an LPN at Hi-Acres Manor, now Eventide Jamestown. Char wasn’t sure if caring for the elderly was something she wanted to do for a long period of time. Forty-one years later, she is still caring for the elders of the Jamestown community. Char truly believes it was God’s calling for her to care for those we serve. There have been many changes and challenges over the past four decades. From pill bottles to a medication card system; from paper and phone calls to computers, email and fax machines. Through all of these changes and challenges the main focus has always been the resident’s well-being.

As Char looks back she cannot believe it has been forty-one years of caring for our residents. It is even harder for her to believe that some of the residents she is caring for now are the sons and daughters of the residents she cared for when she first started her nursing career. Char is grateful for the wonderful families who have entrusted the care of their loved ones to Eventide Jamestown over the last generations.

One of Char’s favorite sayings is, “You’ve either touched someone’s life or someone has touched yours.” This is something that Char sees more each and every day. The blessings of touching so many lives is something Char continues to enjoy after her many years of being a licensed practical nurse. We are so fortunate to have Char as part of our Eventide family.

Ministry of Community and Connection

About Eventide

Caring for body, mind and spirit.

During times of transition, spiritual support can play an important role in comforting people.

That’s true at any stage of life.

At Eventide Senior Living Communities, chaplains lead the way for providing spiritual care to residents. Spiritual care includes worship services, Bible studies, and so much more.

Familiar rituals and traditions like worship and holiday celebrations provide opportunities for fellowship and connection. These help to build community. While Eventide is proud of its Lutheran heritage, worship and Bible studies are inclusive of people from all faith traditions.

But spiritual care is much larger than worship. Eventide seeks to help each resident find wellness in body, mind and spirit. Its chaplaincy services are key to making sure the latter is addressed.

Eventide’s two full-time chaplains accompany residents as they seek meaning in life while navigating through this stage of life’s journey. The spiritual needs of those who move into a senior living community are vast. Some are ready for the change and look forward to joining a safe community. Others struggle with chronic diseases or loss of independence.

“It can be hard for someone to say, I need a little help, and that’s often what happens when someone joins our community” says Chaplain Steve Streed. “We’re here to help them work through fear, loss and anxiety so they can thrive.”

Today’s American culture places more value and emphasis on youth than on the aging, Streed says. But the questions one faces in one’s 70s, 80s or 90s are the same as those faced by someone in their teens or mid-40:

Who am I now? Who do I belong to? What’s my purpose? What is my worth?

Reflecting on these questions gives residents an opportunity to work through stages of grief and loss. Perhaps a loved one has died or maybe someone has broken relationships or disappointments to address.

Streed often starts conversations simply: Do you have regrets? Would you change anything? What advice do you have to share?

Residents with lifetimes of experiences have meaningful responses.

One woman told Streed this advice: 1. Accept aging; 2. Do one thing today; leave one thing for tomorrow; and 3. Get your dander up once in a while.

“The residents at Eventide have experienced the bitter and the sweet, the mountaintops and the valleys,” Streed says. “They have so much to teach.”

Streed sometimes finds residents who are wrestling with an issue that wasn’t addressed earlier in their life. He compares it to Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32.

“God wrestles us to the ground,” Streed says. “We have to face things sooner or later.”

Spiritual care can offer tools for doing that.

Eventide’s spiritual support extends to family members and staff, as well. Families may struggle with a decision to move a loved one into assisted living or long-term care. Chaplaincy services can help them come to peace with their decisions.

Support staff, too, have asked for assistance when a beloved resident passes away – or even for happier occasions, such as weddings and baptisms.

“Our ministry is about connection,” Streed says. “It’s an honor to be part of the journey.”

Listening and Learning: All in a Day’s Chaplaincy Work

Chaplain Steve Streed has spent his career learning at the feet of the greatest professors in the world.

Those professors are the residents of Eventide Senior Living Communities, where Streed has worked for nearly three decades.

“I have so much to learn from each person,” he says. “They’ve lived through World War I, the Dust Bowl, the Depression, World War II, the Korean War … there’s so much wisdom to be shared.”

Streed serves as one of two chaplains at Eventide. He leads Sunday and Wednesday worship services plus weekly Bible studies. He makes calls to residents in hospitals and hosts family support group. He participates in pulpit exchanges, bringing the face of Eventide to area churches.

But Streed’s true ministry happens during day-to-day interactions as he builds relationships with residents, their families and staff.

“I’m always wondering how can I  walk beside a person, how can I support them best?” he says.

So, he listens, observes and learns – just as he does when he fly fishes in his spare time.

Streed never expected to be a pastor, much less a chaplain. He dreamed of becoming an artist, possibly following in the footsteps of his father, a commercial artist. Life took a twist in college and he found himself heading to seminary.

“God chose me,” he says.

After seminary, he served in a rural parish and a more urban one. When Eventide opened its search for a chaplain, Streed decided to apply. He never left.

Ministering to those in a senior living community setting has proven rewarding – even though time has led to changes. In recent years, the average length of stay for a resident has become shorter, meaning he has less time to get to know them. He now spends more time with families who may be working through guilt or grief.

There’s one down-side to the calling.

“We work with life and death,” he says. “I get close to people and they either die or leave.”

But that doesn’t mean his vocation is somber.

Instead, he encourages residents and those he works with to embrace their inner child. Curiosity and fun are important at every stage of life.

Proving his point, he collects books full of corny jokes and shares the contents freely. (Why did three pigs leave home? Their father was a real boar.) He releases his own inner kid when he tells staff in the hallway that their shoes are untied. (The punch line? Made you look.)

And he always wears a wacky tie – something like Donald Duck or Goofy – that captures the attention and imagination of residents. It’s usually the first thing residents at the breakfast table will ask to see when he arrives to the office.

A couple of years ago, Streed accepted the District C Caregiver of the Year award from LeadingAge Minnesota. The award honors those who enhance and enrich the quality of life of older adults in their care.

Streed is honored by the recognition but insists it is his life that has been enriched.

“I let people tell me their stories, “ he says. “I’ve been blessed by them and the connections we make.”

Easing the Stress of Downsizing


Moving can be filled with emotional and physical challenges, especially for senior adults who need to transition into smaller, more manageable spaces.

Linda Lammers specializes in alleviating the stress.

She is the founder and owner Change Is Good, a business that helps seniors move and downsize. The company is part of a growing industry that specializes in “senior move management.”

These services fill a gap for families who live far away or are not physically able to help an elderly family member move. Staff also provide a neutral outlet for families who may disagree about what should happen to household and personal items.

“We go to great lengths to show compassion to our clients and their families,” Lammers says. “We tell families: let us do the hard stuff.”

Lammers started the business after moving her parents, who had been the third generation to live in their family farmhouse. Even with adult children willing to help, downsizing and packing was difficult. Details, such as confirming movers and ordering window treatments for the new residence, almost were forgotten.

“I told my sister there had to be an easier way to do this,” Lammers says.

Change Is Good is a certified member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, an association dedicated to helping older adults relocate or age in place.


When Lammers works with clients, she assures them that they’re the boss. Her first question to them: What’s important for them to look at or use? The answers vary.

Some clients want to take very little with them when they move into a smaller living space, whether that’s a condo, senior living or a long-term care residence. Others want to take everything and only want help packing.

Lammers will not make decisions about what her client’s should take unless it’s a safety issue, e.g. no step ladders, no expired food. But Lammers and her staff will present options if a client doesn’t know what to do with stacks of magazines or a closet full of old coats. For example, they’ll offer to donate them or arrange an estate sale.

“Most of the time, people just want to be know that their stuff has value to someone,” Lammers says.

As part her services, Lammers will visit the space that her client is moving into and design a floor plan. Armed with this information, she can recommend what items will fit in the space.

One client assumed a hutch constructed by her late husband wouldn’t fit into her new apartment. Lammers measured it and assured the client that there would be space for the hutch, if she wanted it. The woman was delighted.

“People already feel like they’re losing control,” Lammers says. “Many are moving because of medical issues or other things outside their control. We let them have control over this.”

And, on moving day, Change Is Good will unpack items and get the new space ready for living. The coffee pot will be plugged in, the bed will be made, and the television remote will be in a familiar place.

“It’s a huge change and everyone’s emotions are high,” Lammers says. “We try to make it a little easier.”




Whether you hire somebody to help or do it yourself, here are some tips for tackling your downsizing move.

  1. Start early. Don’t wait until there’s a medical crisis to pare down belongings. Even if you’re not planning a move soon, it doesn’t hurt to prepare.
  2. Make a plan. Do you need help? Who will be involved? What steps need to be completed? Where will you start? For some seniors, it makes sense to start in the rooms with items that have the greatest emotional value and are used every day, i.e. kitchen, living room, bedroom. For others, it’s easier to start with rooms that are less cluttered.
  3. Involve the family. Every family has different dynamics and expectations. Have a heart-to-heart with family members about items that have both monetary and emotional value. Do the children or grandchildren want them? If not, what will be done with items?
  4. Create piles. When going through items, separate them into four categories: keep, donate, give to family members, and trash. Do some research to determine who/what organizations may benefit the most from donations. Could a local preschool use old magazines for art projects? Are household items or winter gear needed by a local homeless shelter?
  5. Keep memories without the clutter. Make DVDs of photo albums. Save two or three pieces of a cherished collection and take digital photos of the rest.
  6. Ask what you need and what makes you happy. Downsizing means paring down to the essentials. When going through items, ask if it is needed or if it brings joy.
  7. Can’t decide? Set aside. If you are struggling to decide what to do with something, it’s okay to set it aside. A few packed boxes can be placed in storage or a second bedroom or even along a wall (if it’s safe). Make a pact that if the box isn’t opened in six to nine months, the items inside can be given away, sold, or thrown. One you live in the new space, it may be easier to give up some things.
  8. Be kind. Downsizing is hard work. Going through a lifetime of stuff can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Acknowledge this is stressful work and find ways to celebrate even the small steps.

Eventide Jamestown Employee Honored with Caregiver of the Year Award

Gale Scherbenske

Gale Scherbenske, of Eventide Jamestown, has been honored with the North Dakota Long Term Care Association Caregiver of the Year award. This distinguished honor is awarded to caregivers who are recognized and nominated by residents and/or families.

“Gale goes above and beyond to ensure our residents are living their best lives at Eventide.” said Doug Panchot, Eventide Jamestown’s executive director. “I think I can speak for everyone at Eventide when I say that Gale’s dedication to the residents and our organization is what earned her this award. She genuinely cares for our residents and wants them to have the best experience possible each and every day.”

Gale has been an Eventide Senior Living Apartments team member for one year. She officially serves as the office assistant, but is always willing to fill in other roles such as activities coordinator, dining assistant, housekeeper and cook.
Gale has true passion for the work she does and she exemplifies this every day. She is an advocate for residents and treats them all with love and compassion, always wearing a pleasant smile. Gale has a wonderful rapport with all she is in contact with, earning the trust that is so integral when it comes to caring for others.

“Gale was the first person I saw on a tour and greeted me with a smile,” said one resident. “She made me feel like I was at home.”

Another resident stated, “Gale goes above and beyond her duties to make Eventide Jamestown our home and enhance our lives.”

Gale was nominated by numerous families and residents. Eventide Jamestown held a celebration in honor of Gale and her award on March 2, 2018.

Christmas Gift Ideas for Seniors

Shopping for friends and family members who are older can be challenging. More than likely they have down-sized or are in the process of doing so. Space and storage are at a premium if they live in assisted-living apartments or receive skilled nursing care.

Don’t despair. Here are 10 fun and practical ideas that can make gift-giving at any time of year a little easier.


Despite the stereotypes, many seniors are comfortable using technology. Give a tablet or a smart phone so they can video-chat with family members and friends through Skype or Facetime. Upload favorite songs to an iPod or MP3 player. Subscribe your loved one to a podcast or two that they’ll enjoy. Don’t forget to include a wireless speaker.

If your friend or family member loves to read, invest in some large print books. For those whose sight is diminished or who prefer listening to reading, look for books on tape or consider giving them a subscription to a service like Audible.

Homemade Treats

Frosted sugar cookies, lefse, pecan pie … we all have a favorite treat that makes Christmas special. If your loved one no longer bakes or cooks, make sure she gets hers. If she has access to a kitchen or is able to visit you, invite her to make the treat with you.

Special Outing

If your friend or family member doesn’t drive anymore, invite him on a special outing. Drive around and look at the Christmas lights. Visit a popular bakery for pie and coffee. Purchase tickets to a concert, sporting event or theater attraction.


Everybody enjoys a good game, and it may be time for an upgrade. Consider purchasing large-print playing cards or a card holder for your favorite card-shark. Help keep minds sharp by giving Scrabble, crossword puzzles, find-a-word puzzles and Sudoku.


Sheets and towels among those items that everyone uses, but procrastinate to replace. Offer the gift of a nice set of sheets in a soft flannel or smooth cotton. Large bath towels that are actually big enough to wrap around the body can be an unexpected luxury item. Want to make it fancy? Get them monogrammed.

Flower arrangements

Whether it’s a one-time gift or monthly delivery, a flower arrangement brightens anyone’s day. Call a local floral shop for the best recommendations.

Basket of Toiletries

Put together a basket filled with your senior’s favorite toiletries: flavored lip balm, scent-free lotion, aftershave, and deodorant. Include some trial-sized items like wipes, facial tissues, and hand sanitizers that can be easily stored in a pocket or in a bag attached to a walker or wheelchair. Include a flashlight or nightlight.

Gripping Devices

Arthritis, loss of strength and dexterity can make it difficult for some older friends and family members to complete even simple tasks. Give assistive devices that make it easier to do everything from opening canned goods to gardening to fastening buttons.

Greeting Cards

For someone who doesn’t leave home often, letters and cards are a lifeline to loved ones all around the world. Give a box of all-occasion greeting cards. Add a roll of Forever stamps and an address book with updated postal and email addresses for family members and close friends.

Riewer and Johnson Named to 50 for Next 50

Jon Riewer
President & CEO

Jon Riewer, CEO, and Nathan Johnson, Executive Director, Eventide Senior Living Communities, have been named to LeadingAge Minnesota’s 50 for the Next 50. 50 for the Next 50 recognizes innovative and influential leaders who are charting the course for the next wave of older adult services that will empower Minnesotans to age well and live fully.

“50 for the Next 50 are pioneers, challenging the status quo to transform and enhance the experience of aging” said Gayle Kvenvold, President and CEO, LeadingAge Minnesota. “These leaders are making forward-looking innovations in service delivery, elevating the profession of caregiving and best preparing Minnesota for the future needs of its aging population. We are energized by what lies ahead with the mix of these experienced and next generation leaders at the helm.”

The 50 for the Next 50 represent a broad array of professionals who work on behalf of older adults in senior living, adult day services, home care and skilled nursing as well as organizations that support long term services and support throughout Minnesota.

Nathan Johnson
Executive Director, Eventide Moorhead

Riewer has over 24 years of experience in healthcare administration serving the communities of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, Cokato, Minn., and Cando, ND. Riewer has a BA in Health Services Administration from Concordia College and an MBA from the University of Mary. Under his leadership, Eventide has grown to serve more than 1,200 seniors daily with more than 1,400 staff. He has also served as Chair of both the LeadingAge MN Board of Directors and the FMWF Chamber of Commerce. He is a past-president of the Moorhead Rotary Club and has served on the board of the Moorhead EDA and various NDLTCA, LeadingAge MN and LeadingAge national committees.

Johnson has over six years of experience in healthcare administration and has been with Eventide since 2016. He is a graduate of Concordia College’s Healthcare Management Program. Johnson is a board member with the political action committee for LeadingAge MN, is a on the board for the Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators and is a member of the Moorhead Rotary.

The 50 for Next 50 were recognized as part of LeadingAge Minnesota’s 50th Anniversary. Founded in 1967, LeadingAge Minnesota is the state’s largest association of organizations serving older adults. Together with more than 50,000 caregivers, our members provide quality, compassionate services and support to nearly 70,000 older adults every day in all the places they call home.

Widow of ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ Author Shares Message of Hope

The day that Dr. Lucy Kalanithi’s husband was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, he turned to his wife and said: “I want you to remarry after I die.”

To outsiders, it may have seemed like an odd or even inappropriate comment. As Kalanithi describes it, the declaration gave the couple permission to talk openly about often taboo subjects: the time they had left together and Lucy’s future without him.

Kalanithi is the widow of Dr. Paul Kalanithi, author of the New York Times bestseller When Breath Becomes Air. The memoir documents the young neurosurgeon’s cancer diagnosis and his quest to determine what makes life worth living.

Lucy Kalanithi wrote the epilogue to her husband’s memoir and now speaks about patient-centered care and end-of-life care. She presented at Eventide’s Leaders in Living, an annual community education series, in late September. Kevin Wallevand, reporter at WDAY-TV, moderated the event.

Kalanithi’s message was one of hope and love, even in the shadows of death. She emphasized a line from the memoir: “The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

Lucy and Paul met in 2003 as first-year medical students at Yale University. They married in 2006 and funneled their energies into their residencies: his as a neurosurgeon; hers as an internist. Just as the end of those stressful years came into sight, Paul received his diagnosis.

Prior to those circumstances, both young doctors practiced matching medical treatments to the values of their patients. They believed that physicians had a responsibility to understand how their patients wanted to live before helping them determine a course of medical action.

Overnight, that philosophy became personal. The couple not only faced mortality, but followed the question of what makes one’s life meaningful.

“In healthcare, we treat everything as an acute problem,” Kalanithi said. “That isn’t always the best decision when treating a person with a terminal disease.”

Paul believed deeply that until he died, he was living. For the Kalanithis that meant that Lucy supported Paul’s decision to return to work after his diagnosis. “I told him that whatever makes this time meaningful for you and keeps your claws on this world, do that,” she said.

It meant choosing to have a child, even knowing that Paul would not live to see him or her grow up. As they discussed the possibility, Lucy asked Paul if having a baby would make it harder to die. His response: “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” Their daughter, Cady, is now 3.

There were challenges to Paul’s transition from physician to patient. Both Lucy and Paul were surprised at the upheaval of identity that accompanied his terminal illness.

“Your future concept of yourself reflects on who you are now,” Kalanithi said. “If your purpose evaporates, it takes real work to rebuild that.”

Paul spent the last year of his life writing. His book proposal was accepted for publication a few months before he died at age 37. Now Lucy carries his message to others, encouraging individuals and families to face taboos and fears as they navigate serious illness and care.

Every individual, every family will face death, “and you can be resilient through these things,” Kalanithi said. “It’s a human thing to hope for the best.”


During her presentation, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi recommended additional resources for families facing serious illness and care.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
After the Diagnosis by Julian Seifter, MD
The Conversation by Angelo E. Volandes, MD