A Caregiver’s Christmas: Endure or Enjoy

by Mike Collins

oranges-and-slicesSomeone had placed a plate of fresh orange slices on the table in my mother’s room at the nursing center. When I smelled them, I thought I would, as we Southerners say, bust out crying.
At the holidays, my grandmother’s house was filled with all kinds of fragrances: turkey, dressing, baking cakes and pies. I’m sure you have similar wonderful holiday memories. But, mostly, I remember the fragrance of oranges. She didn’t have much money, and the only time of year she had oranges was at the holidays. So now, as a 64-year-old, when I smell oranges—even if I’m in a Harris Teeter in July—I am right back in my grandmother’s house at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When I walked into my mother’s room and smelled the oranges and saw her in the bed as an 87-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s, the experience was overwhelming. This was the third caregiver Christmas we had experienced, and I was reasonably sure it would be the last.
For many, maybe most, caregivers, the holidays are a bittersweet time. We are engulfed in the wonder of the season. Everywhere we go, we see and hear reminders, and at the same time, we are focused on our duties, stresses and emotions of caregiving. I’ve always loved the holidays, and as I moved through my caregiver experience, I was determined that the stress of caregiving was not going to steal the joy of the season from me.
I discovered some simple strategies that eased the stress of the time, increased my appreciation of the season and kept me on an even keel—which helped me help other friends and family deal with the experience.
Here are my seven secrets for a sane caregiver’s Christmas:

  1. Let go of perfect. As a caregiver, how many times have you thought, “I not going to let this experience ruin __________!” Forget that. And, at least for this year, forget the Martha Stewart/Southern Living/House Beautiful image of the holidays. I promise, this time of year will be easier to move through and enjoy if you…
  2. Simplify. The 80/20 Rule says that 80 percent of your accomplishments happen in 20 percent of your time. The rule also applies to the holidays. There are always a few people, a few activities and a few situations that provide most of your joy. Concentrate on those. In fact, your focus should be to…
  3. Find some time for yourself. Whatever you have to do to find a day or half-a-day just for yourself, do it. Make sure the one you are caring for is safe and being cared for, and take a little time for you to…
  4. Relax. Enjoy just breathing in and out. Take a ride and enjoy someone else’s lights and decorations this year. That doesn’t mean don’t decorate, but make a decision that this is the year your home doesn’t look like Chevy Chase’s in the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Believe it or not, the holidays are not about all the stuff, they are about people. So, find a way to…
  5. Connect with others. Who are some of the people you’ve missed connecting with due to your caregiver duties? Reach out to them for a meal or coffee, or at least touch base by phone. You want to hear their voices. And, don’t dump all your problems on them. Simply tell them you’ve missed them, and then listen. Most of them will take over the conversation in a way that makes you feel better—I promise. Speaking of voices, call around and get some…
  6. Practical help. Don’t take the tree out of the attic yourself, if it would be risky or a hassle. Let someone else hang the lights this year (and let however they do it be OK). If you’ll do that, you can have some…
  7. Fun. Too often, a caregiver’s automatic response to the suggestion of having some fun is, “I don’t have fun anymore.” I certainly understand that it’s easy to let the caregiver experience overwhelm your life. Here’s the one thing I learned through all the stress: We, as caregivers, make the decision  of how we move through the experience—on a minute-by-minute basis. It’s your choice whether you enjoy or endure each minute.

Happy holidays!

 

Collins is the producer of the video, “Care for the Caregiver,” winner of a National Caregiver Friendly Award from Today’s Caregiver Magazine. For ways to deal with the craziness of caregiving, visit www.crazycaregiver.com. ©2016 Mike Collins.