Holidays and special occasions can bring out the best and the worst in us. The prospect of wonderful, happy times abound, filling us with somewhat unrealistic hopes for our relationships. We are often disappointed by how these special occasions turn out. Add to the normal tensions of holidays, the image of someone you love being ill or incapacitated, and you have the makings of very difficult times. Many times we wish we could just disappear until the holidays are over.
Some thought and careful planning can make these times easier. The key word during the holiday season is “realistic”.
First and foremost, we need to try and think about what we really want to happen. Are you looking to have a quiet day? Is it important to have anyone in particular with you? If you are a caregiver you must ask yourself, "What am I up to doing?" Honor your answer by not doing more than you feel you are comfortable doing.
If you choose to have company at these times, make it as easy as possible. Don't assume all the responsibility. Ask your loved one what he feels up to. Most people usually like to have those they love, and feel comfortable around, with them. Limit these occasions to family members and a few close friends.
Encourage honest communication between the entire family including close friends. Although your loved one may not seem to know exactly what is going on, try to remember that most care recipients have a real sense about themselves, their illness and what is going on in their world. Don't allow the person's illness to replace their identity.
Families can share their sadness and disappointments by openly communicating about them. And, while you do not need to force cheerfulness, don't forget that humor makes many of the difficulties of life easier to bear.
Keeping your level of expectations realistic will make the day go more smoothly for you, your loved one, extended family and friends. Remember that whatever you choose to do this year does not need to be the same as the past or the same in the future. If sandwiches on paper plates served in the bedroom are all that is possible, don't try to cook a turkey dinner.
The best advice for caregivers is to be realistic. Expect the normal tensions of family togetherness. Let others know how they can make the holidays easier for you. Don't overdo it. Recognize that you may be physically and emotionally depleted. Try to read, exercise, eat well and get some time alone. Try to stay in the here and now; anticipation is always worse than the actual event. We cannot predict what tomorrow will bring for anyone, so enjoy this day without needing for it to be perfect. Let yourself dispense with the "institutional" nature of the holidays and look for ways to make the day meaningful for yourself and for your loved ones.
Ideas for the Caregiver:
1. Don’t try to do it all. In the past you may have prepared Christmas dinner for 20 and created hand-made gifts for all of your relatives. Ask other members of the family to carry on specific family traditions. Dividing the responsibility will help you manage your stress level.
2. Don’t attempt to travel long distances by car if your loved one is not used to it and tires easily. You will both be exhausted by the time you reach your destination, and you will have a difficult time enjoying yourself.
3. Ask family or friends to provide respite care. Make time to enjoy holiday decorations or window shopping. Just a few hours of time by yourself or with a friend can be renewing and help combat a sense of isolation.
4. Avoid comparisons with past holidays. It is often emotionally draining to look upon change as loss. “Life is change” can be a helpful concept to hold onto.
5. Create new traditions that can be carried on year to year, rather than dwelling on old traditions that your loved one can no longer participate in.
Ideas for Your Loved One:
1. Find a way to have your loved one participate in the holidays, whether its making decorations or counting the days on an Advent calendar
2. Decorate your loved one’s room or living area for the holidays. Incorporate symbols and decorations that are meaningful. Bible reading, sharing the story of Christ’s birth, and it’s personal meaning, the reason He came, and the promises to us in His word of eternal life with Him. This brings focus into the true meaning of the festivities. But, use wisdom, ten to fifteen minutes of warm sharing of scriptures is worth a great deal. Don’t try to bring longwinded theology into it. Those with chronic illnesses, the aged, and suffering from dementia, are not up to a long session. Remember what your celebrating; and why and act accordingly.
3. Stimulate all of your loved one’s senses with the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of the holidays. Ideas include Christmas music and decorations, a favorite dessert and familiar scents.
4. Familiar holiday foods are a nice way to evoke positive memories.
5. If your loved one is in a care facility, extend traditions to other people in the facility. For example, pass out holiday cards or make a traditional dessert to share.
Focusing on the true meaning of the holiday season brings the situation into perspective, and lightens the load. Expectations are brought into balance, and takes much of the stress and tension out of the season’s activities.