Archive for December 2014

The Bittersweet Season: Grief in the Midst of the Holidays

Many of us enter this holiday season with both joy and sadness in our hearts.

We remember, and long for, loved ones who have died, even as we celebrate with gratitude the abundance that fills us and the friends and family around us. Some of us are caring for frail or ill loved ones, or are dealing with health issues of our own. Anxiety and depression mark the season for some, and poverty and isolation make a mockery of the good cheer that is expected at this time of year.

I cannot heal these wounds, though I fervently wish I could. I try, through my work and in my personal life, to ease the pain where I can.

What I can do is share some of the little things that seem to make a difference for me as a bereaved mother, and hopefully inspire some of your thinking about what is meaningful for you.

My own list of simple pleasures helps create the serene mood of the season that I value and make space for sadness. They reduce, rather than add to, my stress. They help me honor both my joy for the season and my grief, and to remember the many who are suffering as I express gratitude for what I have.

Here’s my list, along with some thoughts about how it might work for you:

Remember your loved ones who have died – don’t try to shut out memories of your loved one, thinking that will help you get through the season. Instead, schedule time to focus on that person (or people) and let whatever feelings are present come to the surface. You may light a candle, make a donation in memory of your loved one, or attend a “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night” service.

These are services specifically for people who are grieving or suffering through the holidays. (When I googled “Blue Christmas Service,” I got lots of good information. You may be able to find one near you, or create your own ceremony to share with others or experience alone).

Every year since my daughter’s death I have participated in the Worldwide Candle Lighting sponsored by The Compassionate Friends. It’s a way to connect with other bereaved parents and siblings around the world, and with those who support us. We send a wave of light around the globe! I invite you to join us this year on December 14th at 7 p.m.in your time zone.WCL 2014 CMYK

Have eggnog – I know this is fattening but a little bit of this wonderful stuff is redolent with the flavor of the holiday.

Sit by the fire – I am very fortunate to have a gas fireplace, and it’s the feature I most love about my house. Instead of a fireplace, you might light a cluster of candles. All winter holidays share the idea that there is light in the midst of darkness.

Play holiday music – I have some special albums that always soothe my spirit. Most are on the order of the “Winter Solstice” and “Celtic Christmas” variety, but the one holiday album I must listen to every year is the one John Denver made with the Muppets.

It’s not as corny as it sounds – there is some very moving music there, lightened up by more typical Muppet antics. Music seems to reach into the hurting places in me and release some of the pain.

Decorate the tree – I skipped this one year and regretted it. It seems like a pain to get everything out and assembled, only to have to put things away again, but I love the ritual of placing each ornament and remembering who or where it came from. It’s a bittersweet time but a way to honor the past while being fully in the moment. Then I love to look deeply into the branches at the lights and the colors. It’s magical!

Your tradition might be to light a Menorah, celebrate the Solstice, or to otherwise honor your Spirit. These rituals can be a tremendous comfort for many. When they cause bitterness or pain, you can respectfully decline and do what works for you at this point in your journey.

Connect with friends and family – Visits are wonderful, and if they don’t happen for whatever reason, a phone call helps. It’s been too difficult for me to send Christmas cards for several years, but I am grateful for Facebook and the way it allows me to interact and share small moments, photos, jokes, and encouragement.

There are also online support groups, and may be a group in your area. For bereavement support, check with your local Hospice or Hospital.

If you are alone, please consider going to a community-hosted meal, or volunteer at a nursing home. You have gifts to share as well as to receive, and your service to others is a wonderful way to connect.

Have a cry – the season carries hope and longing, joy and sadness. Let the tears come when they will.

Make some cookies – I used to make dough and roll out dozens of cookies. While I don’t have the time or energy to do that now, I’ve learned that the smell of baking and the pleasure of a warm sugar cookie can be achieved with the refrigerated, slice-and-bake kind.

Read the story of the birth of Christ – this is important to me, and I recognize your own selection may be from another faith tradition or secular source. My father always read “The Night Before Christmas” to us before we went to bed on Christmas Eve, and I’ve maintained the tradition. Another favorite is “The Christmas Carol,” and we watch our favorite movie version of this every year.

Drink hot chocolate – Enough said.

If you celebrate Chanukah or practice an Earth religion, you will have your own list. I encourage you to treat yourself to a little gift each day, something that helps you feel special and cared for. It may be a flavored lip balm or gloss, a favorite candy bar, or a “guilty pleasure” spy novel or romance. Take a moment to reflect on the miracle of lights, perhaps by having your own menorah for private contemplation.

If you can, treat yourself to a massage, invite a friend for coffee, or connect with a counselor to help you express your feelings and develop a strategy for coping.

If your feelings overwhelm you or you think about suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

What keeps you going? How do you balance the need to honor your grief with the expectations of the holiday season?

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Blessings of the Season to you and yours!

Do Caregivers Ever Get a Snow Day?

There is a storm coming, and I can feel the pressure in my temples.

People have been calling or texting to cancel their appointments, and while there have already been numerous accidents on our local roads, the “real” storm is expected to build slowly today and hit us hard overnight and into tomorrow.

I think we’re hard-wired to seek shelter when the weather is bad. For some of us, that “low pressure headache” is both warning and encouragement to get back into the safety and security of our bed to wait out the danger, or at least to hit the sofa.

In the movies, a storm usually marks some kind of change. In real life, it can feel like a call to action. Gather milk and toilet paper! Check the generator! Mount those studded snow tires!

Once our most basic needs are assured, we may use the storm as an excuse to take a break from the everyday busy-ness of life. There is a different feel to the world when it is muffled by several inches of snow. Businesses close, messy roads discourage travel, and we can postpone the mundane.

A snow day isn’t just for school children; we can all decide to stay in our jammies and watch old movies on TCM.Ravens on the Field

When you care for someone who lives with chronic illness, dementia, or frailty, there are some tasks that will have to be done no matter the conditions. Barring true Apocalypse, we have to have food, manage getting to and from the bathroom, take medications, and consider bathing and other personal care.

Is it possible for a care partner to enjoy a snow day?

Sometimes a shift in how we think about the day can make space for us to focus more on the moment, and less on the many tasks that always seem to clutter our to-do list.

A snow day can mean pulling out a game you enjoy, putting on some music, and generally loafing where and when you can. A snow day can be for “being” more than “doing.”

It’s natural! Embrace the snow day by slowing down, making some hot chocolate, and spending time with the person you care for. Accept some care today, and enjoy the blanket of winter.

How do you make a “snow day” special for yourself and your loved ones? What rituals bring you comfort and help you slow down at this time of year? Please share your thoughts with our community, and stay safe and warm!

 

Looking for Holiday Gift Ideas for Elders?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/uitdragerij/with/3130878949/

Lonely this Christmas by uitdragerij via flickr

Are you trying to figure out what gifts to get for an older family member, friend, or neighbor?

Ideally, we know the person well and can think of an item that builds a bridge from us to the recipient, reflecting who we are, how we’re connected to the Elder, and what is meaningful for them.

For example, framed photographs of family members may be welcomed, a sketch of the family home, or a DVD of a favorite movie. A thoughtful letter thanking the Elder for the ways they have enriched your life is sure to be appreciated.

When we don’t know someone, such as when we’re gifting Elders in our community through a charitable organization, home care agency, or faith community, try to talk with the person in charge of the event to find out what would be meaningful and appropriate. Chocolate covered cherries may be welcome, but could conflict with someone’s health regimen.

I live in the Northeastern United States and because it’s winter, I often think of items that create or signify warmth and comfort, such as fuzzy slippers, cozy blankets, a variety of hot teas, scarves, body lotion, pre-stamped postcards, notecards, flashlights (with batteries already installed), colored pencils (Crayola makes nice ones that are inexpensive), gloves/mittens, or warm socks.

The gift of your time and presence can be the best gift of all. Offering to stay with a person who lives with frailty while the primary caregiver takes a break would be appreciated by both the Elder and the care partner. Your local senior apartment complex, assisted living, or nursing home might welcome your help with holiday decorating, or you could volunteer to play games or read to folks who don’t usually have visitors. Even if you don’t play the piano, singing Christmas carols is a wonderful way to both give and receive care during the holidays.

What gifts have you found to be appreciated by the Elders in your life? Please share your ideas with our community, and have a warm and wonderful holiday season!

Lisa Kendall is a clinical gerontologist with a private counseling and consulting practice in Ithaca, NY. 

Check out Lisa’s report on “9 Essential Steps to Assembling Your Care Partner Team” at www.carepartnerconnection.com.

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