Caregiving through the Holidays
Holidays have gone horribly wrong, somehow.. It starts in November and continues through January a snowballing, post-Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, collection of holiday obligations, shopping, cooking, buying, teas, concerts, special events here and there until we drop.
Holidays are hard in a so-called “normal” year but mix in caring for elderly parents and it can easily suck every drop of joy from “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”–as the song goes. I think it is a special time. For me it is Emanuel, God with us, when God sent his son as a tiny, vulnerable baby into our world.
I know this is a rabbit trail, but will you go with me on a very slight detour? We talk about, or I hear people talk about, not wanting to bring a child into this world, because it is so bad. I don’t think being a Jew in the Roman Empire was any picnic, so imagine being God, sending your son as a tiny human into that world. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. So why have we made this time of year that should gladden our hearts such a burden?
Grocery shopping the Sunday after Halloween, I got my first glimpse of Christmas decorations on sale. My immediate thought was, “No, no, no—it’s too soon!” It’s too soon for many reasons, some of them the commercialism that feeds our economy, but like little kids who get wound up near Holidays, so do those with dementia. Add in the unreasonable expectations that creep in and joyous thoughts quickly become nightmares.
I’ve decided I definitely need to simplify the holidays this year including Thanksgiving. We don’t need five different pies. We don’t need every side dish. There are traditions, of course. The traditions mean a lot to my parents, even more so, as they’ve aged. But honestly, they don’t remember what they’ve eaten ten minutes after its consumption, so I think we can get by with their top favorites. My mom used to make every person who came to dinner their favorite pie. Then she would be exhausted and not enjoy the day. She would be so busy cooking she didn’t spend time with people. I know that was her way of showing her love but I’d rather spend time with the family I don’t see as often. We lived nearby so she saw us regularly. Seeing us wasn’t a novelty. Despite what I want, I find myself trying to do things her way to please my mom.
Gift giving is another trap. We only need our daily bread and a roof over our heads. We’ve accumulated enough stuff for three lifetimes. We spend more than we should to buy gifts we don’t need. I’m simplifying gifts this year. I don’t have time to shop, but online shopping has become so easy. I can overspend in minutes without leaving my comfy chair. I can even shop in bed! I’m ashamed to say I buy things at 2 AM! I can’t sleep, so I browse, and pretty soon I’m ordering. In the middle of the night it feels like I really need that thing. In the morning I wonder, what did I buy again? I’ve got to limit my shopping to hours when my brain is fully functioning–as soon as I figure out when that is.
My parents get anxious during the holidays. Mom thinks it’s her responsibility to shop and cook. A month ago she asked me if she should go to the fresh fish market (that by the way, is no longer is in business) to get fresh fish for Thanksgiving. What??? We have never had fish on Thanksgiving to my knowledge. Even if we did, we wouldn’t buy it a month ahead of time.
She hears announcements about the holidays on TV and radio and starts getting agitated. We have scaled back some of her demands over the years we’ve cared for her. She used to ask me, the day before Christmas to go to the See’s Candy store and buy gifts for all the family, the delivery people, her hairdresser and nail person. I wouldn’t go near that store the day before Christmas. Have you seen the lines? Besides, everything’s sold out by that time. I have tried to include her in the decisions, but then she becomes overwhelmed and upset. Telling her after-the-fact, what I’ve bought for each person works better.
My mom has always been a last-minute shopper, I’ve always been a planner. One way isn’t better than another, they are just different. We had a hard time compromising in the early days. I used to make meal plans for an entire month. My mom shopped in the afternoon, for whatever sounded good to her for dinner–that night. I still make lists of everything I’m serving for holidays, long before the day. I make my shopping list early, buy everything I need ahead of time, except the fresh items that would spoil. My mom had the hardest time figuring that out. To her the fun was the last-minute deciding of what sounded good. I just can’t function that way.
It might be because I worked outside the home, raised three kids and my husband had to travel for work. My mom raised me in the days most moms stayed at home. I remember browning meat in the pan after work, with my coat half-off, while trying to get someone out the door to ballet lessons or sports practice.
Trying to understand each other’s differences has been a challenge. Often my dad gets put in the middle. My mom doesn’t want to ask me directly to do something (like get candy the day before Christmas) so she pressures my dad to ask me. If she doesn’t get the answer she wants, she tries a different tack but she keeps trying. If I still refuse, she wants my dad to do it, even though he no longer drives and wouldn’t know where to go or what to get. He’s never shopped–unless you count Radio Shack and hardware stores.
I’m sure we will experience some trials this year too. As Mom becomes more confused she forgets, then remembers with a determination a pro athlete would envy. Though it’s a challenge, I hope it’s one we still face, because Mom gets weaker by the day. She has lost another five to ten pounds in the last two weeks. I have never seen her this thin in my lifetime. So even with the challenges, I hope she’s here to challenge me some more through the holidays. I’m strapping myself in, getting ready for the ride.
What about You?
Have you faced holiday challenges caring for elderly parents? How did you handle it? Do you plan to make any changes this year?
Have a good caregiving day,