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Caregiving Reality

Handling the Holidays

Photo Credit: Tobias Björkgren

A holiday can be a particularly difficult time for a caregiver. All of the normal daily stress is compounded by the expectations of the celebration, company visiting, and disrupted schedules. Sometimes it can feel like everything was going great until a holiday showed up. But as caregivers we don’t need to despair. The taxing season of holidays can be navigated successfully if we keep a few important things in mind.

First, keep expectations reasonable. We all want it to be like the good old days, but if you are caregiving for an ill family member those days are gone, at least for now. You are living in a new reality. And in this new reality you can’t have a party like you used to, when the world was young and everyone was in good health. What you do, and what you participate in, must be scaled back to match your currently available time and energy. Don’t make yourself guilty about what you can’t do, and don’t let anyone else make you guilty.

If you try to do everything you used to do when you weren’t a caregiver, you will fail. You will become stressed, frustrated, disappointed, and depressed. You won’t be happy, and nobody else will either. Happiness in times of celebration while caregiving is found in recognizing the limitations of your situation and mindfully, and gratefully, living within those present constraints.

If friends and family members are thoughtful enough to ask you how much you can participate, explain to them the limitations of the person in your care and the limitations in what you can do. If the people around you are demanding, accusatory, and insensitive, ignore them as best you can and do what you know is best. Nothing good will come from arguing with them.

Second, be aware of the limitations of the person in your care. Every illness has stages, and as a caregiver we need to be aware of how much holiday celebration the person in our care can handle at the current place in their journey. Don’t deprive a ill person of all holiday cheer, but neither should we push a sick person beyond what they can take. Not only is that cruel, but it will make them stressed and angry which can lead to explosive conflicts which make everyone miserable.

When I was caring for my grandpa in his Alzheimer’s journey, I had to continually adjust our holiday plans to accommodate where Grandpa was at in his disease. In the early days of the sickness we could still travel to family events but I had to be sensitive to Grandpa’s need to leave early. He didn’t have as much endurance, or tolerance, for socializing as he did when he was healthy. When the disease progressed to a certain point I could no longer take him out for holiday events at all. If there was going to be a celebration that included him, the celebration had to come to us. At the end of Alzheimer’s Grandpa could only take a limited amount of time in the bustle of company and after a short period I had to remove him back to a quiet bedroom where he could rest undisturbed and a few people could visit him at a time.

Protect the person in your care. Don’t let people who are unfamiliar with the sickness force the ill person in your care into participating in ways they can no longer enjoy. You are the one who knows the ill person’s limits best–be the person to defend them from ignorant friends and family who don’t recognize the constraints that come with poor health.

Third, enjoy the moments you have. We all have limited time on this planet. It is easy to become sad during holiday seasons when we recognize most acutely that things are not what we would wish. But rather than wallowing in dark thoughts, or trying to hide from this hard reality, or trying to make up for it with exhausting effort–instead of all those things, acceptance is the path to take. Mourn honestly for the things that are lost, rejoice gratefully for the things that you have, and make the most of the time you have in celebration with the friends and family that love you.

Finally, learn how to let go. If you try something and find you can’t do it–let go. If you get frustrated, stressed, and angry–let go. If there is so much you wanted but don’t see how it can happen–let go. Often the most important things in life are simple and it is good to stay there. We all want a great holiday and a big party–but those ultimately aren’t what life is all about.

If you can keep these truths in mind as you approach any holiday season you will find yourself better able to navigate difficult situations and keep a sense of balance in a stressful time of for caregivers.

Now go enjoy your holiday!

Photo Credit: Ali Eminov

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