Caregiving During the Holidays
When you think of the holidays, what pops into your mind first? What image do you see? What do you feel? Happy? Excited? Or, as a caregiver, are you now experiencing sadness, dread, and anxiety about the weeks to come? If your answer is “yes” are be assured you’re not alone.
The holidays are supposed to be happy, joyous, and festive. They are imagined to be filled with visits with family and friends, maybe a trip to a tree farm or to an aunt’s house for latkes, presents that have been thought about and carefully purchased. Meals that reflect years of traditions- and lots and lots of time and money to make that one meal “perfect.”
Let me ask, now that you’re a caregiver, is that really all necessary? Can you really truly do all that? When I’ve been a caregiver it was sometimes a lot to expect me to be showered and in clean clothes with a relatively neat house before visitors arrived. Did that make special days any less important or memorable? I don’t know- I was too tired from caregiving to remember to tell you the truth.
Last Thanksgiving we had hospice in our home. Making any kind of a meal was simply out of the question. So Lesson Number One- always have a Plan B. I sent my kids to Downtown Disney for their holiday meal with some friends. It was special for them, and it got them out of the house for the day, which we all needed. I needed not to linger on the losses that were occurring by focusing on a holiday, and they needed not to lose their holiday, so when friends asked how their day was they could say they went to Disney. (I scored some cool mom points too).
I had to let go of my traditional feast to focus on my loved one, who needed me. I treasured that quiet time. And my kids had a new experience that won’t happen again.
As a caregiver I know you already know you have too much on your plate. And if you don’t you will at some point. Here are a few tips to consider as you plan the next few weeks:
Ø Know your limits- and make them reasonable. You are already a superhero, but making a huge event may be your kryptonite.
Ø Know what your loved one can tolerate. Last year may have been very different from now. Folks with limited energy cannot handle long events or much travel. Folks with dementia do better in the morning than in the evening. They do better with fewer people. They need familiar surroundings. They may not remember friends and family which causes distress.
Ø Prepare your family. If they haven’t been around much, or not at all, they may be aware of what’s changed. I know you have told them, but some people need to see it to believe it. Send an email or a long text- tell them what the rules have to be. They may need to introduce themselves in a non-condescending way. “Hi grandma, I’m Julie. I know I grew up a bunch this year.”
Ø Divide the days. There are no rules about how many days it may take to celebrate. Think about it this way- we are supposed to be celebrating family. That should probably happen a whole lot more often than it does anyway. So do a breakfast with one small group. Then lunch another day with another group. Maybe cookies and desserts for yet another group. Maybe even schedule some visits for January. There are no rules requiring events to occur on a schedule.
Ø Monitor your energy. Caregiving is hard work. You know that. If you don’t have it in you- don’t do it. Ask someone else or skip that tradition this year.
Ø Leave room for grief and loss to bubble up and need time and space. You are caregiving. Someone you love is not doing well. You are losing traditions, and you may be preparing to lose them at some point. Don’t get so busy that you don’t have time for those moments, and allow them when they show up. “Angels we have heard on high” still makes me cry halfway through the chorus. And you know what? That’s ok. If anyone else is uncomfortable they can handle that themselves.
Ø Find ways to reduce the energy needed for the things you choose to do. Having a meal? Restaurants will box them up and you can have someone bring it to you. Shopping? Amazon can be your new best friend. It’s amazing how much shopping you can do if you are up all night with your loved one. (There’s always QVC on TV to watch for ideas!)
The holidays are yours too. Make them special, but make them fit where you are right now. If others want bigger, better, more elaborate allow them to do it in their own home, and allow yourself to say no if you just don’t feel you can go. Singing “Silent Night” in a silent room by a lit tree, or lighting the Menorah in a quiet room and enjoying that moment- aren’