By Joleen Specht, CHP
The holidays are coming, the holidays are coming! For many the response may be an "Aaaah" (soft, warm sigh). For caregivers, however, "AAAAAHHHHH!"(loud, shrill scream) may more closely resemble the initial response. Caring for a loved one during the holidays can bring to the surface so many different emotions. Some people wear themselves out trying to do everything, and others wish to skip the holidays altogether.
It's okay to long for memories of holidays past, when things seemed easier. Although, if we are honest with ourselves, those warm, fuzzy memories are likely skewed. Let's face it; no matter your lot in life, the "perfect" holiday exists only in Norman Rockwell paintings. The warmth of a cozy fire in the fireplace and the smell of cinnamon apple cider may have been a reality in the past, but as a caregiver of a loved one with a serious illness, your holiday may exist in a new reality.
This doesn't mean all is lost. Holiday joy doesn't have to depend on doing everything the same way it has always been. It's okay to make some changes. Start small, start simple. Here are some ways to make this holiday one to remember:
Learn To Say Yes
I know, I hear you saying, "Wait a minute, we have been told the opposite; learn to say "NO." However, since your loved one's diagnosis, you probably have been forced to say no-to a lot of things. No to the things that used to be; no to your weekly coffee date with friends; no to your favorite hobbies; no to lingering time with family; no to some of your own needs. I would like to challenge you to rethink and say YES. Yes to the neighbor who asks if they can help in any way; yes to your clergyman when he asks to visit; yes to siblings who offer to do the grocery shopping; yes to friends who offer to bring meals. YES, yes, yes! Let "Yes!" be your new mantra.
Be Prepared To Say Yes
You've been asked many times, "Is there anything I can do to help?" Your initial thoughts may be, "Are you kidding? I have so many needs, I wouldn't know where to start." If you prepare for this question, you can find some needed relief in a friend, and they will feel good about helping.
Be prepared to answer this question with "Yes." Start by purchasing some 3x5 index cards. On the top of each card, write the word YES, then list two or three things that you relish having someone do for you, things you will say "Yes" to. For instance, yes to 2 hours of respite time so you can get that new haircut you want to try. Yes to taking the garbage to the road on garbage day. Yes to a plate of holiday cookies.
Several years ago on a December evening, my husband and I, along with our two smallest children, were in a car accident, which temporarily disabled us for about 3 months. Fortunately I had already decorated, so when we arrived home from the hospital a few days before Christmas, the house looked and felt great. However, by the second week of January I was feeling suffocated by the clutter of the holiday decorations. A friend called and asked if we needed anything, and I knew immediately what I would say: "YES, would you mind coming over and taking down our decorations?" That evening they arrived with their family and did just that.
Say Yes Through Change
Yes, things have changed, and may never be the way they used to be. Most of the time, moving forward into joy may mean we have to embrace some acceptance of where we are in life. It is not what we chose, but it is what it is. If we can find some way to say yes through the changes, we can find something small to bring us joy. So with that in mind....
No to The Old, Yes to The New
Give yourself a break. It's okay that you don't have the energy to put up a Christmas tree, or to feel sadness at Christmases long gone; really, it's okay. Who says you have to put up an ornately decorated tree to find joy? Rather, pull out that one favorite piece -- the wind up snow globe which plays your favorite song, or perhaps the tree topper you picked out together. Find that one thing that really speaks of the holidays to you, and give it a special place in your home. If your patient can stomach it, put some cinnamon sticks and sliced oranges in a pot of boiling water and brew the fragrance of the season.
My husband and I have owned assisted living homes, where the residents went to bed before 8 p.m. We would invite families over on New Year's Eve around 6 p.m. When they arrived, they found all the clocks had been moved ahead to 11p.m. After mingling and a few snacks, it was close to midnight (our time of course). When the clocks changed to 12, we all cheered and hollered and broke out an off-key rendition of "Auld Lang Syne."
Let the old traditions move over for new traditions and create new memories. After all it is memories, not stuff, that truly create the feelings we all long for.
The Best Gift
It's true, you didn't ask for this season of life. You want your loved one to be healthy and living a normal life. You are taking care of your loved one because you love him/her. Unfortunately, in this real world people get sick and need help.
As the director of an American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, I try to encourage caregivers to take a moment, just a moment, and look at the good that can come out of their situation. Take a moment and remember some of the little moments that made you smile. You are learning and growing. One day you will be able to help someone else in a similar situation. You will always know that you did everything you could to help your loved one when they needed it most. I know it's hard. I have been there. Create memories from the little moments, even if moments are all you have. You have this moment, and how you remember it can be the best gift.
Specht is manager of the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Marshfield (Wisconsin).