Holidays and special occasions can bring out the best and the worst in us. The prospect of wonderful, happy times abound, filling us with somewhat unrealistic hopes for our relationships. We are often disappointed by how these special occasions turn out. Add to the normal tensions of holidays, the image of someone you love being ill or incapacitated, and you have the makings of very difficult times. Many times we wish we could just disappear until the holidays are over.
Caregivers may have unusually high expectations during holidays and special occasions. Knowing that this might be a last birthday, anniversary, Thanksgiving, Hanukah etc., caregivers may feel enormous pressure to make this time especially significant. The care giving family faces the normal tensions families experience in the holiday season, but their resources are usually depleted, energy levels are low and free time is limited.
Some thought and careful planning can make these times easier. First and foremost, we need to try and think about what we really want to happen. Are you looking to have a quiet day? Is it important to have anyone in particular with you? If you are a caregiver you must ask yourself, "What am I up to doing?" Honor your answer by not doing more than you feel you are comfortable doing.
If you choose to have company at these times, make it as easy as possible. Don't assume all the responsibility. Ask your loved one what he feels up to. Most people usually like to have those they love, and feel comfortable around, with them. Limit these occasions to family members and a few close friends.
Encourage honest communication between the entire family including close friends. Although your loved one may not seem to know exactly what is going on, try to remember that most care recipients have a real sense about themselves, their illness and what is going on in their world. Don't allow the person's illness to replace their identity.
Families can share their sadness and disappointments by openly communicating about them. And, while you do not need to force cheerfulness, don't forget that humor makes many of the difficulties of life easier to bear.
Keeping your level of expectations realistic will make the day go more smoothly for you, your loved one, extended family and friends. Remember that whatever you choose to do this year does not need to be the same as the past or the same in the future. If sandwiches on paper plates served in the bedroom are all that is possible, don't try to cook a turkey dinner.
The best advice for caregivers is to be realistic. Expect the normal tensions of family togetherness. Let others know how they can make the holidays easier for you. Don't overdo it. Recognize that you may be physically and emotionally depleted. Try to read, exercise, eat well and get some time alone. Try to stay in the here and now; anticipation is always worse than the actual event. We cannot predict what tomorrow will bring for anyone, so enjoy this day without needing for it to be perfect. Let yourself dispense with the "institutional" nature of the holidays and look for ways to make the day meaningful for yourself and for your loved ones.