For years, Dan and I never had guests in our home. His father lived with us, and one element of his mental illness was severe social anxiety. Interacting with strangers was sheer torture for Norman, so out of love for him, Dan and I socialized outside our home.
When my mother came to live with us, her Alzheimer’s influenced us to make other decisions. At one point my mother was prone to eating small, unattended objects. So for several years we didn’t have a conventional Christmas tree in our home, out of concern for what Mom might do with the ornaments if we left her unattended.
Holidays can be stressful for caregivers in ways other people often find challenging to relate to. But here are a few tips for caregivers to help make this your best holiday season ever.
- Don’t expect everyone else to understand the caregiving world. Unless it’s your job to keep Mom from chowing on loose change or to help Dad through his anxiety attacks when the mailman steps onto the porch, you probably won’t understand other stresses of the holiday season. Don’t expect non-caregivers to relate to your holiday frustrations. Give them the gift of grace.
- Find another caregiver or caregiving group to listen and support you. The holidays can be emotionally challenging and physically demanding. Find someone who understands, and give yourself the gift of emotional support.
- Go ahead and ask. The next time someone asks what they can do for you, be ready. Ask for something simple and rejuvenating: a massage, a night out at the movies with your spouse or a family member, a spa visit, a longed-for book, a few meals for the freezer. Keep a list ready and hand it off to a friend who can ask for you.
- Don’t take things personally. The holidays can be stressful, and family time together can be challenging. Remember that your family members are struggling with their own grief, trauma, and disappointments. Offer the blessings of peace and the commitment to love them as you would want to be loved.
- Make a plan. This holiday may not look like past holidays. Find ways to create special memories, and remember that your priority is to maintain and build healthy relationships. Look for ways to create bridges of healing while maintaining your health and your loved one’s health.
- Remember to be grateful. Above all, be thankful for the things you’ve been given. Think about this question: What is the single-most important thing you are grateful for about members of your family? Close friends? Consider offering the gift of gratitude to those people this holiday season through a card of thanks or in a face-to-face conversation. Your words could be the most valued gifts you ever give here on earth.