My Holiday Letter to You

The holidays can be stressful for those caring for Elderly loved ones. With Holiday shopping and preparing for large family gatherings, you hardly have time for yourself. I follow a Facebook Page called When Dementia Knocks. Elaine Eshbaugh, Ph.D., is the creator of this Facebook Blog. She is a Professor of Gerontology and gives terrific advice on Caring for a loved one with Dementia. This week she posted a letter called “My Holiday Letter to You,” which resonated with me immediately. In our daily work, we see many families struggling with the everyday challenge of providing care for their own family and taking care of an aging loved one. Then along comes the Holidays and the stress becomes overwhelming. With the Holidays upon us, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to share her post/letter with my followers.

My Holiday wishes to you,

Have the best possible holidays.

Not the most perfect holiday ever. Not the most exciting holiday ever. Not the most awe-inspiring holiday ever.

Just the best possible holiday.

You don’t have to have four different kinds of pie. Each person doesn’t need a dozen presents to open. It’s OK if you don’t get around to putting up a tree. You can do minimal decorations. You can buy pre-made stuff for dinner. You don’t need to organize post-meal games and entertainment.

Let it go.

Seriously. Let it go.

Many of us love the holidays. Some of us don’t. And quite a few of us probably both love and hate the holidays all at once.

If your family is impacted by dementia this year (or if you’ve lost someone recently), the holiday might not look the same.

And that’s okay.

I read something the other day that stuck with me.

Everything ends, and that’s okay.

It reminded me of when I’ve held onto something too long. A romantic relationship. A friendship. A job. A hobby. Even jeans that don’t fit anymore (because I will lose weight, right?).

It takes a lot of energy to hold onto a tradition when everything around it changes.

The yearly family tour of holiday lights. The gingerbread house building contest. The all-day holiday movie marathon. Midnight mass. Early morning worship service—the 6 am present opening start time.

It may have worked before. Maybe it doesn’t work anymore.

Everything ends, and that’s okay.

Someone with dementia may not have the stamina for an all-day holiday celebration. It’s okay if they only stay for 45 minutes. It’s OK if they take a nap in the bedroom. I they have little patience with loud and excited children, allow them a quiet space to regroup. Or get the heck out of there.

The Holidays are different now. It’s okay.

I know from experience that you can get takeout for Christmas dinner. The local grocery store cooks it; all you need to do is reheat it. You may miss mom’s sweet potato pie, but you will survive. And the clean-up is easier too.

Do you know what happens if you don’t have the time or energy to go out and buy holiday gifts? You can shop online. If that’s too much, you can give cash or gift cards. And, you know, if you aren’t in a position to be able to give gifts, people understand. And if they don’t understand, they’re jerks, and that’s their problem.

The holidays can be pretty dang joyous, but they’re a lot. They’re a lot for people living with dementia. They’re a lot for care partners.

Small gatherings might be better than big gatherings. Short intervals with kids may be better than long intervals with kids. Quieter may be better than louder. Fewer lights might be better than more lights.

And, as is my advice year-round, always have an exit plan. Maybe it’s a hotel. Perhaps it’s a quiet room at a gathering. Maybe it’s a conversation before an event where you explain that you’ll quietly slip out when the time is right – even if it’s only 20 minutes into the gathering.

Oh, and don’t feel the need to explain all of your decisions to family members who don’t even try to understand your reality. They don’t have to get it. In fact, they probably won’t.