I once estimated that during December I added 60-80 hours of additional work to my already busy life as a wife and homeschool mom. Shopping, gift wrapping, baking, entertaining, sending cards, decorating—the list was never-ending. No wonder I breathed a sigh of relief when school routines returned in January.
Add to that the challenge of caring for an older relative and the holiday season may be more dreaded than anticipated. Yet many of us pressure ourselves to do everything we have always done through the holidays—after all, it’s “tradition”!
Instead, let’s spend some time thinking and praying about what would make this year’s Christmas celebration honoring to the Lord and refreshing for everyone in your family. What if we focus on Him as we celebrate this year? After all, "holiday" is rooted in the words "Holy Day."
First, prayerfully decide which traditions are the most important to you and your family. Focus on the simple joys of Christmas—hit the “Delete” button on perfectionism.
As much as possible, maintain your normal routines with regular meal times and naptimes. Your loved one likely does not have the stamina to be constantly on the go, so choose activities wisely. Try to space them out over the season so you don’t have back-to-back events.
Perhaps this is not the year to see the annual production of the The Nutcracker, or to send handwritten Christmas cards. Maybe you could compromise, viewing the ballet on television and sending email Christmas letters this year. (Confession: one year I sent our annual family newsletter at Easter and no one unsubscribed, or marked it “Return to Sender.”)
This may not be your best year to host the whole family for Christmas. Then again, if your loved one has dementia, it may be easier to host them in your home than to travel with them. Families often find that Alzheimer patients become very confused and fearful when taken out of their normal environment.
One woman told about taking her father to visit out-of-state relatives. When they arrived at the hotel for the night, he told his wife and daughter, “You girls had better take me home. My mother wouldn’t like me being here in this place with you.”
The trip had so disoriented him that he didn’t recognize his wife and daughter and was certain they were up to no good. They took turns staying awake through the night to be sure that he wouldn’t try to leave. Needless to say, that was the last trip they made with him.
As you think about Christmas decorations, consider safety issues for your elder. Watch for tripping hazards from electric cords, rearranged furniture to accommodate the tree, and things she might mistake for food if she is a dementia patient.
If she is able, invite her to help you decorate. My mother-in-law enjoyed setting up her ceramic Nativity set the first year she lived with us, but now, four years later, we don’t dare set it out for fear she will break it while playing with it.
Also think about how much decorating you really want to do this year. Maybe a wreath, a table centerpiece, or a small tree will suffice during this season of caregiving. There will be other times in the future when you can display all of your Christmas “pretties” again.
If you decide to host the holiday meal, simplify the menu, including foods that can be made in advance. Ask guests to bring the side dishes. This is not the year to put on an elaborate magazine-perfect spread that requires lots of last-minute assembling.
Consider what foods your loved one will like and can eat with a minimum of assistance. If necessary, ask someone to cut up her food in the kitchen and assist her at the table so you are free to be the hostess.
Plan what clothes she can wear that will make her feel festive; or perhaps she will just wear a Christmas pin or necklace for everyone to comment on. Be sure you have a change of clothes in case she needs them.
Avoid moving your elder to a different bedroom, even if you need the space for houseguests. Let the younger folks be flexible to show her honor. She will have enough changes to cope with during their stay and she will need a place of retreat for peace and quiet and naps. Join her if you need to. ☺
Teach your children and grandchildren to use their inside voices when indoors. This shows honor for Grandma’s needs and teaches them self-control even when they are excited to see their cousins again.
Teach the children how to interact with Grandma. Set a timer for one hour and choose a different child each time to offer her a drink of water. This is a win-win: they learn to serve and Grandma doesn’t get dehydrated, possibly spending Christmas in the emergency room after fainting.
When you are alone with your elder, let her know that she isn’t the only one that gets tired of the activity that young children bring into a home. Put a positive spin on having the grandchildren there: “I love to have the children here, but I won’t miss the racket.” Point out a little one who is doing something endearing saying, “Isn’t she cute when she does that?” Your positive responses will make it easier for her to enjoy the new busyness of the household.
Consider having your elder open her gifts first while she’s fresh. If she gets tired or the noise is too much for her, she can retreat to her room while the rest of the family finishes opening their gifts. Help her give gifts, too, even if you have to do the shopping.
One caregiver places a $5 bill in an envelope for each great-grandchild. Great-Grandma holds them in a basket and the children come to her to receive their gifts. They return to give her hugs after opening their envelopes. This is easy on the caregiver and easy on Great-Grandma’s bank account—she has twelve great-grandchildren!
People often wonder what to get for an elderly person and they may be asking you, her caregiver, for suggestions. Here are some ideas:
- Lotion or personal care products.
- Comfortable clothing or nightwear in her favorite color.
- Experience gifts: tickets to see a show or concert. Consider a matinee when she is more rested.
- Gift certificates to her hairdresser or a favorite restaurant.
- Certificate promising weekly or monthly visits with her.
- Write and perform a song or poem just for her.
- Magazine subscriptions.
- If your loved one has a dementia disorder such as Alzheimer’s, visit Best-Alzheimers-Products.Com for ideas.
Ask the Lord to give you creative ideas for celebrating with your family. Perhaps you can continue your family traditions, but change when you enjoy them. Or maybe you will drop some traditions during this season of caregiving. Be thoughtful and intentional as you plan for Christmas and other holidays. Christmas isn’t a duty: it’s a delight! Don’t allow yourself to get grim about it—God intends for you to enjoy the season, too. Have a Blessed Christmas!
© 2016 by Marcia K. Washburn, author of Home-Based Eldercare: Stories and Strategies for Caregivers available at ChristianFamilyEldercare.org. Request a free copy of her downloadable ebook, Managing the Holidays, at firstname.lastname@example.org.