Traditions and memories are part of the joy and glory of living. Perhaps that is the reason we find ourselves trying to recapture them years later.
In my family, Christmas was a time for celebrating many Polish customs, like the sharing of the oplatek, a wafer, greeting one another around the dinner table with a wish for health, happiness and good fortune. Another custom was waiting for the first evening star before beginning the Christmas Eve dinner. It was saving a little bit of each entrée on our plate to give to the birds and animals. We sang carols around the crèche, and attended Midnight Mass. Come to think of it, I don’t remember many of the gifts I received as a child. But the warm memories of love and joy with family are the ones that remain with me to this day.
This time of year can be stressful for caregivers and family members. It is common to experience a sense of loss for the way things used to be. It is also easy to slip into a guilt trip about what you think you should do or how you should feel.
Caregiving is a tough job! It isn’t realistic to expect that you will have the time or the energy to participate in all the holiday activities that you once did. You can still find meaning and joy for you and your family. Here are a few suggestions to help relieve some of the stress and to build new memories.
First, adjust your expectations and set realistic manageable ones. You know best the level of functioning your loved one is at, so determine what will be most meaningful to you and your loved one. Think about what traditions and activities you will truly enjoy. Trust your instincts. Resist the pressure to celebrate in the ways others might expect you to.
Second, communicate early with family members and friends by preparing them for what to expect. Update them on the status of your loved one’s health. You can do this by a telephone conference call to discuss the celebration, or by letter, e-mail, or Skype. Delegate tasks. You don’t have to do it all. Perhaps this year plan a potluck where everyone brings their favorite dish, or let someone else host the dinner.
Third, try to plan for a slow-paced and somewhat “quiet” gathering or small get-togethers. A calm and quiet environment is usually best for a person who has Alzheimer’s. Hold it in the most familiar setting. If you host it at your home, try to keep daily routines in place. If your loved one lives in a facility, participate in the activities planned for the residents.
Fourth, make preparations together. Let your loved one help you bake, wrap presents, or open holiday cards together. Tone down your decorations, as blinking lights and large displays can cause disorientation. Plan for one of your children, a relative, or a friend to stay with your loved one while you do holiday shopping or attend a holiday party.
Fifth, schedule visits when it is the best time of day for your loved one to enjoy the company. You might suggest that a few family members come on the holiday eve, while others come on the holiday itself. Children add joy to the holidays. Involve youngsters by preparing them for no loud crying or screaming.
Lastly, remind yourself that the true spirit of the holiday is LOVE! Think about what your loved one’s life would be like if you were not there to do what you do. You are a gift, not just at the holiday season, but year round! There is a wonderful expression: “To the world you are one person, but to one person you are the world.” Take care of your needs during this season. Caring for yourself is not being selfish. It’s being wise and selfless.
May peace and happiness brighten your holidays and remain with you throughout the coming new year! From my family to yours, as we say in Polish, “Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia!”
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A Holiday Carol
Lately in the news, there seems to be little in the world that is calm, merry, or holy. To help celebrate the season and remind us that there is hope and beauty all around, here is a favorite Christmas carol of mine. It is a version of “Silent Night,” sung by Placido Domingo, with the Cathedral School Choristers, and accompanied by The Piano Guys.