By Faith Unger, CaregiverU Program Director
Previously, I’ve written a blog about holiday survival, but the focus was on helping the care receiver to survive the holiday chaos. My thoughts now turn to the caregiver who is already overwhelmed and additionally faces the work and activities that come with the holidays. How can the caregiver make this personally a time of good cheer?
Plan ahead. Have a visit with the calendar to see what’s ahead. Fill in the dates and times for all of the events ahead—both family time and work time if it applies. Then, think about all of these activities. Are they really essential to your holiday bliss, or would there be more bliss if some were moved or eliminated? Can you really handle everything on that calendar, or is it too much?
Then start setting priorities. What makes the holiday special for you? For some of the events that are hostess heavy, could someone else take over or share those tasks? Do right by yourself!
A few years ago, I eliminated a live Christmas tree, which seemed to me the essence of Christmas. It was hard, but it was the right decision. We bought a scrappy-looking little artificial tree and no longer had to coordinate with someone to help get the tree home and set up. Now, whoever comes home for Thanksgiving gets the tree down from the attic and sets it up. Together we all decorate. Decorating the tree has become a nice family activity and that is where we now invest the time and energy.
Gift shopping and shipping takes time, and if done with my care recipient, it’s also very stressful. Analyzing the situation made me realize that few of my family members actually need more stuff, but rather need great experiences to treasure. In the comfort of my home, I can order online gift certificates to museums, concerts, extension classes, and other great experiences. And sometimes we can enjoy those things together.
For several years I gave up going to holiday parties because of the expense of hiring a caregiver for my spouse so that I could attend the events. That often gave me the blues—so instead, I look at the invitations and choose a couple of special ones to attend. Having only a few makes the chosen all the more delightful.
Christmas cards? That’s not done anymore! But should it be done? I realized that for a small group of family and friends spread across the country, this was my only still-remaining thread of connection. Thus, I decided that it was important to figure out how to do it simply. I’ve never wanted to join the ranks of those writing the long Christmas letter with the whole year’s every detail, but writing one short message for everyone had some appeal. What has evolved is a short bulleted note done on the computer, highlighting a few of our year’s events and one or two short handwritten sentences personalizing the mass copying. These notes are put into inexpensive Christmas cards and sent on their way. No, we no longer receive a lot of Christmas cards, but we do appreciate every single one received—and people seem to like hearing from us. It’s a way to reconnect once a year.
How about the holiday baking? While raising the children, it was a highly anticipated activity, as the sweet treats were served at holiday events and shared with others as gifts. Well, since the number of holiday events is less, that is no longer a big need—and frankly, there’s not as many people with whom to share as gifts. I now make just a few sweet treats and I spread the baking across many weeks, stashing batches in the freezer. The smaller quantity is still much appreciated. I’ve found that people who provide services for my care recipient really appreciate the baked goodies, and the sweet treats bring back special memories for the kids when they visit during the holidays.
The holidays are a time of remembering. But sometimes we’re afraid of the remembering, because we don’t always like the way it is now; the past seems so much better. We’re afraid to dwell on the past for fear of sadness and disappointment. It’s a soul feeder, though, to remember the good times and laugh at the funny times. Give yourself time for that, and also cherish the new memories you’re making. Find the goodness. Treasure it. This holiday is good in its own way. Just as with each new baby, we had to modify our traditions a bit to accommodate the new life—so, too, as a caregiver. We adapt as needed to let the good times roll. Do what is needed to make the holidays good for you, the caregiver. It’s the gift you give yourself!