By Rick Lauber
Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, the month of December can become a very bumpy ride for many of us physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially, and we may end up feel anything but “merry.”
W e don’t have to move all the way to being grouchy grinches but for family members who are caregivers, feeling down (moody, stressed, sad, irritable, and/or depressed) during the holidays can be quite common.
Why is that?
Consider the focus of the holidays. These are times to traditionally have fun, relax and enjoy celebrations with friends and family. But for a caregiver, the situation may prove extra challenging with little personal time left over. Doctors may be harder to reach when needed. Mom could be awaiting surgery and be in pain. Dad may have just been admitted to long-term care and it’s your first year without him at home. On top of that, COVID-19 may restrict visiting.
Consider the work involved
Holidays are time for social gatherings, shopping and wrapping gifts, sending cards, decorating and perhaps cooking special dishes. These festive activities take time and effort—time and effort that caregivers don’t always have to spare. With busy work and care schedules they’re often exhausted by evening.
Consider the timing
Families may realize that given the current physical or mental health of their loved one, this might be their last holiday season together. Alternatively, they may have lost a loved one and the holidays serve
as a painful reminder.
There is still room for holiday merriment, however, it may just require a little bit of creativity and flexibility. How so?
• Start early and simplify. A rushed job often becomes less enjoyable. The sooner you begin holiday preparations, the more time you will have to get things done.
• Change customs. Do you really need to string the lights around the house or pull out all the decorations from storage? Can you simplify the dinner menu by preparing fewer side dishes and/or desserts? Focus on what is most meaningful.
• Ask for help. Divide up chores, grocery buying and preparation tasks if you can. Could a temporary home care professional help you out? Even hiring a housekeeper or someone to help with basic chores could be a big relief.
• Shop early or online. Eliminate frenzied shopping trips to the local malls and/or fighting for a parking spot by ordering gifts from favourite shops and having them delivered right to your door. For instance, if your family will feast on turkey this year, shop for the bird now for the best selection and keep it in your freezer until needed.
• Establish a budget. If finances are of concern, plan gifting wisely to avoid a stressful credit card bill in the new year. Our family decided to draw names and shop for one adult only.
• Remember to say no. The holidays can be full of invitations from well-meaning friends, work colleagues, and family members. Be mindful of your parent’s energy and your own. Saying no also extends to partaking in too much holiday food and drink that you might regret later. Holiday treats aren’t always the healthiest choices, particularly for those with medical conditions.
• Giving back. With family caregivers routinely giving so much, giving more may be difficult to imagine. But finding an avenue where you can donate some time, expertise, and energy can be very rewarding. Others will benefit from your help and you may well feel better for contributing. If you can’t block off a few hours, could you make a one-time financial donation to a needy cause?
• Show gratitude. Despite the difficulties, take a few quiet moments each day to think of things you can be thankful for. The sun on the snow. A holiday display or event in your neighbourhood. Your children coming home from university. The announcement of an engagement or a new baby on the way. By focusing on the upbeat news, you’ll have the chance to get rid of the grouches, even if it’s only a short time.
• Practice self-care. Self-care, or respite, is important year-round but it becomes imperative during the busy holiday season. Whatever you can do to sneak away and do something for yourself can do you a world of good right now. Enjoy a hobby, read a good book, bundle up and go for a nature walk. Turn off your cell phone.
• Create new traditions. As you make changes, focus on a few new holiday activities you can create and enjoy together. Honour missing loved ones with a toast or a prayer and find time to share pleasant memories and funny stories with each other.
Here’s hoping your holidays are as merry and bright as possible.
Rick Lauber is a book author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide (Self-Counsel Press). ricklauber.com.
Think about the kids. Elders enjoy spending time with little ones but be mindful of the noise and confusion they often create. Small doses are fine but all-day events may be far too exhausting. Plan a quiet space for yourself and the person you are caring for when events are held and consider arriving late and leaving early. In the nursing home, consider short pre-planned times so as not to disrupt routines.