Holiday Survival for Caregivers
I’m always reflective this time of year and wrote a blog a while back about family memories and holiday survival for caregivers. It still rings so true for me, so I would like to share it with you again. Enjoy!
The Christmas Holidays were always a big to-do in my family. I recently passed by my childhood home on Thanksgiving and just looking at the front door had memories flooding back to me of the winter wonderland my Mom created every Christmas.
The living room, dining room, and staircase were covered in garland and twinkling lights, and the tree was always magnificent. Every room in the house was decorated, even in my room next to my Beatles posters. I’m sure now there were times she struggled to make Christmas ends meet but we never knew because she always turned out the best decorations ever. My Dad would moan and groan about all the work, but I think he too really loved the show of it all and looked forward to the holidays.
Life brings change to Christmas memories
One of my earliest memories of my Dad was working with him to decorate our front door together. I can still see my dad cutting a big sheet of paper to cover the front door to make it look like a Christmas present. I held the edge for him and watched him focus on the cutting as if it was a direct order from Santa. I’ll bet anything he had positioned a spotlight outside to shine on the door as he would continue to do in all the years following no matter what door design he would come up with. Walking out the front door with that spotlight in my face year after year at Christmas is something I can see and feel as though it was yesterday. I would give anything now to be walking out their front door to the glare of that spotlight.
Needless to say, Christmas was always a big deal. As my parents grew older, their parents passed and our lives moved forward, my sister took over the holidays and began having them at her house in Florida. We would all fly there to celebrate. My sister was blessed with a great sense of style and outdid herself making everything as wonderful as could be. The adjustment from Mom orchestrating the festivities to my sister went really well. I know my sis felt the pressure to make the transition smooth. Our Mom was never easy to please, and she hated getting older and not being able to do everything herself, but we ended up having many holidays together at my sister’s where all my parents had to do was show up and enjoy.
As my parents’ health declined and they were no longer able to travel, the last few Christmas’ became my responsibility to organize in their new senior apartment and I, too, felt the pressure to do it up properly. I used their decorations and did everything I could to make it festive and happy, and we all worked really hard to show up and make everything appear normal.
For the first few years, my mom was able to direct the decoration process and seeing the decorations brought back memories of her. Putting up the manger especially made her happy. It was a long, drawn-out process while we arranged all of the animals to be in just the right positions. I was able to be patient and we had a lovely time. She insisted there was one little lamb missing (which I couldn’t find) but I was able to soothe her by saying I would look later until I found it. Of course, she forgot about it.
Much to my surprise after my Mom passed and my sister and I were going through the decorations and we gathered the manger pieces to re-pack, guess what I found? The tiniest little lamb that my mom was insisting was missing. It was hidden in the tissue paper way in the corner of the box. It was yet another reminder that we must never write off our loved ones assuming their memories may be incorrect or that they have lost the capacity to engage in life. My mom continuously surprised me just when I thought I understood how far her disease had progressed. She proved me wrong all the time.
Holiday survival for caregivers
I am blessed with a family that made sure they traveled to be with my parents at holidays. I would find as the time drew near that I was worried what my sister would think of the provisions I had made and how she would judge the state of my parents under my care. Sadly this is a normal reaction to the situation and in no way reflected my relationship with my sister (which is amazing) or the reality that I was doing a great job to the best of my abilities and what other people think of me or my work is none of my business! That’s not a typo. What other people think of me is none of MY business. I still worried like my sister did that the holidays would not be special enough and that my caregiving abilities would be in question. I think so many Caregiver Warriors second guess the amazing job they do and the holidays can be breeding grounds for added pressure and stress.
The daily care you have been providing all year can be underscored by family members who, due to guilt that they are not supportive the rest of the year or perhaps seeing their loved ones declining health or mental state for the first time in a while, say or do things that seem to criticize or demean the wonderful job you are doing. Do not take this personally and make sure you have insulated yourself from this by surrounding yourself with warm and fuzzy family members or friends who do understand all you do and support and appreciate you so you can turn to them for a reality check. Try not to second-guess yourself. If you do, reach out to someone you trust to tell them how you are feeling so they can give you positive feedback and help you stop worrying or beating yourself up.
The last two Christmas’ with my parents I got gift cards for everyone and told my mom all the presents were taken care of and she didn’t to have to worry about it. It took the pressure off me so I wasn’t running around using precious time trying to buy gifts for everyone. She was quite happy with the gift card idea (much to my surprise).
Love is the best gift at the holidays
I read a wonderful article recently about a caregiver who allowed herself to bend the rules a bit and take the pressure off herself by getting her mom the day after Christmas from the nursing facility for a day visit since her mom had dementia and didn’t really know what day Christmas fell on. The caregiver was able to spend a stress-free loving day with her mom that wasn’t rushed or frantic. Her mother was delighted. It was a great Christmas.
It’s decisions like these that we can make especially during the holidays that can be life-changing. Try and make a list of all the things you have to do. Take a good look at the list to see if you can come up with some creative ways to make those to-dos or chores or schedules easier. Think outside of the box and outside of the pressure you are putting on yourself. Are there things you can eliminate completely because they are overkill and over functioning? Are there actions you can delegate to someone else? Is it all really necessary or could you do things in a way that makes it easier on you? Being perfect or making a perfect holiday is not possible. Striving for perfection is pointless and gets our panties in a real twist. Let it go and realize that you don’t have to do 100 percent. 80 percent is just fine, thank you. Most people don’t do even 80 percent!
Joy is found in those moments when you can be relaxed and present. It’s not about what other people think, or their idea of the holidays or making outside appearances look terrific. It’s about good intentions, love, and self-love. Getting rest, eating properly, and letting everyone off the hook including yourself are the best holiday gifts you can give. Believe in the magic that everything will work out just fine and remember you deserve to enjoy the holidays and your loved ones. Accept help and support from those around you and do the best you can to the best of your ability, then “let it go, let it go, let it go.”
Happy Holidays to you and yours.