Three holiday tips for caregivers

By Wendy Johnstone
December 5, 2014

Just as a puppy can be more of a challenge than a gift, so too can the holidays”. ~ John Clayton
When I first read this quote, I laughed out loud.

Our beloved puppy (who is now a year old), Buddy, was a Christmas gift to our daughter last year. I truly forgot how much work puppies are, especially a Coonhound and German Shorthaired Pointer cross. If you can’t identify with those breeds, look them up and just smile to yourself; grateful that it’s our family that has the dog not yours! In all seriousness, we do love our beloved Buddy!

Holidays are like puppies, especially for caregivers. As we get closer to the holiday season, conversations with caregivers tend to be filled with a little more anxiousness, and I find caregivers often feel more burnt out.

Part of the angst is uncertainty or knowing what’s possible when celebrating the holiday season with frail and aging loved ones in a significant and meaningful way. At the same time, caregivers want to do the best for their loved ones and tend to maintain unreasonably high expectations.

If the very notion of the holiday season is sapping your joy, read on:

Share Your Wish List
Sometimes we do things simply because we always have. If you’ve been in charge of the holiday gathering, give yourself permission to ask for help with your holiday to do list. On the flipside, make sure you are on the receiving end of some joy too by sharing your wish list. Ask family or friends to provide respite care or give your aging loved one a change of scenery. What’s really important is finding a way to enjoy the holidays without burning out.
Nobody likes a grumpy elf
There’s a reason the Elf on the Shelf is always smiling…he doesn’t do anything! Elves don’t get grumpy unless they take on too much work in Santa’s workshop. Take the time right now to decide which holiday traditions you want to continue and which ones you can live without. Ask yourself, “Would the holidays be the same without a tradition, is there something you want to do differently, do you do it out of habit, choice or obligation and can the job be shared?”

Holidays are about “presence”
Be present. One of the best ways to do this is to be open in your communication. It’s important to have a conversation about the physical and cognitive changes your aging loved ones are experiencing with other family members and friends. Discuss the holiday schedule as it relates to your aging loved one. Be realistic about their abilities and stamina.
I’m sure even Santa has his days: No doubt, even the happiest and jolliest of caregivers have those moments when it all feels too much to handle. It’s OK to be Charlie Brown every once in a while, but try not to dwell too much on “all that’s been lost.” It can be emotionally draining for yourself and those closest to you. Surround yourself with support.

The balance scale is going to fluctuate between caring for loved ones and caring for yourself; between loving memories of past holidays and some sadness in remembering loss of loved ones. Have some milk, have some cookies and – above all – be kind to yourself this holiday season.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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