Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

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!

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.

Celebrating Thanksgiving with Loved Ones who Live with Dementia

Thanksgiving is a very special American holiday that carries many memories and not a little nostalgia for the past.

I remember riding in our family car with my sisters to visit Grandparents for Thanksgiving, and singing “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go!”  It’s a warm memory, infused with laughter and excitement.

Memories are at the heart of this holiday, which is focused on gratitude.

This year for Thanksgiving, you may want to consider a shift in your traditional way of looking at your Loved One who is living with dementia, and the ways they contribute to your family.

Consider your Elder’s strengths, and the gifts they offer, and actively express your Gratitude for them.

Instead of just remembering with sadness the grand meals your Elder used to make, be sure to experience gratitude for the memories, the recipes, and the ways your Loved One contributes to this years’ experience.  It will give her great pleasure to “teach” her favorite dishes to the younger set, and to help at whatever level she can and in a way that ensures success.

Autumn Tree SunsetInstead of focusing on illness, have the family create a list of gifts your Elder has given over the years and continues to give.  For example, a grandchild might write “I am grateful for the way Grandma has helped me with college, and for her encouragement in my studies.”

Share this list with the Elder in a packet of notes, so she can refer back to them.  This will make the moment last!

Focus on Laughter; it’s the greatest gift we can share among family and friends.

Consider a smaller group to cut down on noise and confusion for your Loved One.  Your Elder’s strength might now be to enjoy more intimate gatherings.

Provide a place for the Elder to step back and rest whenever she feels the need.  This might be a comfortable room where she can nap, or a second living space, such as a family room or den, located away from the bustle of dinner preparations or rowdy football games.

Remember the other care partners in your Elder’s life, and show your gratitude for them.  A card of thanks is a valuable gift to home health aides or the neighbor who keeps the walks cleared in the winter.

Stimulate memories and conversations by starting a story with, “I remember when we (did such and such…) It was always fun to be with the cousins,” instead of asking the Elder “do you remember…?”  The former is more likely to generate shared stories, while the latter can lead to frustration and increased confusion.

Seat your Elder next to someone who knows them well and is patient and kind.  They can watch for needs the Elder may have difficulty expressing, such as “pass the rolls, please!” or “may I be excused from the table.”  They can slow the conversation down so the Elder can participate.  Sometimes a little more time is all that’s needed.

Perhaps different family members can take turns attending closely to Grandmother or Grandfather, 30 minutes or an hour at a time.  This ensures that no one feels left out of that rowdy football game!

Some family holidays are day-long affairs.  Is this what works best for your older Loved One now, or should she come for the part of the day that is most meaningful and manageable for her?

Speaking of “meaning,” a guideline to help you decide what and how much to do for the holiday should be to ask what is meaningful for you, your Elder, and your family.  Stretching yourself to do extra cleaning or make everything from scratch might leave you feeling too tired to enjoy the gathering.

Where can you cut back on work, or delegate tasks, while keeping the most meaningful parts of your time together intact?  Is there a ritual your family does for Thanksgiving that you want to honor?  Figure out how your Elder can participate easily.

For example, a family who has always had each member read a verse or passage at the table might shift the custom to showcase the teens or the younger kids.  If your Elder’s reading is good, but recall is poor, she may be OK with reading something rather than reciting from memory.

What ideas do YOU have for enjoying Thanksgiving with your family, and for adapting to the needs of a Loved One who is living with dementia?

Please share your comments below, and have a Blessed Holiday.

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