When someone you love is seriously ill, you may be tempted to tune out everything between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The planning, the additional errands, the emotions – the holidays can seem overwhelming when regular days are challenging enough.
But before you cancel the entire season, consider this: Celebrating it is beneficial to you both.
“For the caregiver and the loved one, it can be very reassuring to go through those familiar traditions and rituals,” says John Schall, CEO of the nonprofit Caregiver Action Network. “Many times we see that people hang on for those holidays and milestones. It means a lot psychologically.
Celebrating the season will trigger happy memories and bring together those who are dear. But that’s not to say that this year won’t be different. It will be, and that’s OK—what’s important is spending time with the ones you care about.
As you head into the holidays, consider this advice for celebrating when your loved one is ill:
Get it out in the open.
Start the conversation about the holidays well in advance. It’s important to acknowledge this year’s challenges instead of letting the topic hang over your heads. “Start by saying, ‘We’ve always done ABC and I think we should do A and B; how do you feel about that?’ ” Schall suggests.
Make your plans part of an ongoing conversation. During a low moment, your loved one may declare that everything’s off and then, a few days later, have a change of heart. You don’t want to be a broken record, but you do want to hit repeat a few times.
Your day-to-day routine is different, and your celebration should be, too. Chances are that neither you nor your loved one will be up for anything too big, noisy or complicated. Start by shrinking the guest list and the number of activities. If you’ve always exchanged gifts with every family member, consider drawing names instead.
Or if the festivities usually involve an entire day of eating, drinking and games, limit the fun to one meal scheduled around the time of day when your loved one has the most energy. (A Thanksgiving breakfast instead of dinner? Go for it!)
While you’re downsizing the festivities, increase the amount of help you’re asking for. Let someone else plan the food (go potluck style), and enlist older children in the family to decorate, set the table and do the dishes.
Plan an escape route.
“It’s very important that your loved one can easily get away from wherever you choose to celebrate to rest and recuperate,” Schall says. That might mean changing the venue or confining the party to one side of the house (away from the person’s bedroom). If weather permits, usher folks outside after the meal so your loved one can have some quiet time.
Spread the wealth.
“There’s no reason the entire extended family has to come over on Thanksgiving Day; it can be more a holiday season than a holiday day,” Schall says. Set up a staggered visiting schedule, which will be easier on your loved one and allow for more intimate exchanges.
But you’re thinking, That means more cooking and cleaning for me. Nope. Ask guests to bring snacks or food if it’s around mealtime—they’ll be more than happy to. And let them know that the house won’t be spic-and-span. They’re not coming to see whether your oven is spot-free; they’re coming to spend time together.
Let go of normal.
“When you go in thinking you’re going to make the holiday as normal as ever, you’re setting yourself up for emotional turmoil,” Schall says. Instead of hanging on to a family tradition that would be difficult this year, start a new one—something that fits your loved one’s energy and mobility levels. It could be a movie marathon or an evening drive around the neighborhood to look at the lights.
Accept that the holidays will be tough—there’s no way around it. There will be difficult moments. You will cry, others will cry. Recognizing it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster will help you get through it—and you will get through it.
Patients with chronic illnesses often find themselves suffering a relapse days after discharge. Beaufort Memorial’s Bridge to Home program offers the resources they need to maintain their health and stay out of the hospital. To learn more, call 843-694-1722.
Photo courtesy of Winter 2015 issue of Living Well