Caregivers, please at least glance at the holiday strategy list in this Caregiver.com article by David Lowell, M.D.: Strategies for Special Holidays. Especially if you are a new caregiver this Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, but even if you’ve already devised some great holiday shortcuts in previous years, you might find some great new ideas or tweaks to old tips.
I’ve been through nearly 20 holiday seasons with aging parents, and my family continues to adjust our strategies to new developments. For instance, I used to love inviting the whole family, 15 people, to my house for Christmas dinner and gift exchange. Then one year, it pained me to announce I simply could no longer handle this. (As our parents' bodies tire more easily, so do ours!) I had hoped perhaps someone would volunteer to help me keep this tradition I cherished, but no one did. Instead, something even better for our parents’ situation developed—an out-of-state brother and his wife arranged to come into town, completely decorate our mother’s house and coordinate a yummy potluck there. Then Mom didn’t have to go anyplace, which is increasingly difficult for her. This year, Mom didn’t think she could have the whole family, now 18 people, in her house, so my same out-of-state sib and his wife rented a party room a few blocks from Mom’s and once again, have pulled all the rest of us into a team to host a Christmas feast. Now Mom gets the freedom to leave the party and go home when she gets tired. It will feel odd for us when she leaves, but we know this is best for her.
A friend of mine has made tough choices with family traditions this year, too. Just as her mom and dad drove the family up to their Michigan cottage each summer, for the last few years, the kids have been driving their aging parents up to the family cottage. But this year their father’s Alzheimer’s had progressed to the stage in which disorientation produces agitation and anxiety. This autumn siblings disagreed about whether their father would enjoy going to the cottage or be worse for the trip. Then came Thanksgiving, then his grandson’s wedding, now Christmas … Mom can join the family for all these events, but Dad is really better off staying in the nursing home. This is heart-rending for everyone, except possibly Dad, whose emotional equilibrium is protected with this strategy. Meanwhile, individual family members can go to him to express their love for him and celebrate holidays in quiet ways in familiar surroundings. Our family made this adjustment as well when our dad was in the nursing home with Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Lowell suggests adopting a “Life is change” philosophy. I agree. And I would add that learning how to grieve in healthy ways is a good thing to begin practicing now. Grief is not only a post-death issue; we grieve the loss of our and our parents’ abilities and holiday traditions as well. Consult your pastor or librarian or Google to find effective books on the subject of grief and/or local support groups. Happy holidays!