Is Giving Care Different During the Holidays?
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,….
Christmas is coming. This time of year can be joyous as we celebrate the birth of our LORD and enjoy family and friends. Holidays can bring stress too. Being the main caregiver can add additional stress, changing the entire dynamics of the traditions of your Christmas (and other holidays).
As caregivers, you may be wishing that the holidays were over or anticipate them with a dread because you just can’t handle the stress of all the “doing” that you find is expected. You may find that you have been alienated by your caregiving duties. Friends don’t call or come by as they once did. You can’t find anyone to watch your care receiver so you may go with your husband to his office party. You have family coming into town to see the parent you care for and you hold resentment towards one or more of them for their lack of support or for telling you how to do something even though they never offer actual help. You dread the encounter, yet do not want to start an argument. You just wish it all were behind you. Your care receiver struggles to recognize pictures accompanying Christmas cards, getting agitated for their lack of memory. Or they don’t recognize where they are because the Christmas tree is taking up the corner where a certain chair is the rest of the year. These issues may occur year-round, but with the added expectations of holidays, you almost would rather skip them. Know that you are not alone.
Many people laden with family expectations, caregivers or otherwise, go through the holidays hoping they will be over soon. Rather than wish we could bury our heads in the sand, keep in mind that you can begin anew, set down parameters that work well for you, and remember what Christmas is really all about. A Savior came into the world over 2,000 years ago. He is our peace, our Prince of Peace.
For a Child will be born for us,
a Son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
Jesus is our all and worthy to be praised. During these times, let us keep our eyes focused on Him.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:15-17
As Paul directed Timothy, Jesus reminds us that He is with us. He is our “perfect patience,” guiding us through each day, through this time of year.
Ways to hold Jesus’ “perfect patience” during this holiday season:
- Maintain a regular routine for both you and your loved one. The one being cared for must be considered of prime importance. He or she may or may not know what time of year it is. If they are very sick, a holiday may mean nothing to them because they just don’t feel up to doing anything or being around crowds. Many need peace and quiet; others need to have the family gathered with the delight of children. Knowing their needs are a must. A person with dementia/Alzheimer’s usually needs to have little or no confusion or frustration in their environment. Try to prevent loud noises, whether that be music or conversations. Keep one room as a ‘quiet room’ for a nap or for a refuge from all of the hubbub. Taking them to another’s home or a strange place can cause confusion. Be conscience of the foods offered, making sure he/she eats/drinks properly.
- Take care of yourself: staying healthy, both physically and spiritually, includes eating right and nourishing the soul. The care receiver can often sense that you are tired, stressed, or burdened. By caring for yourself, they see a loving, focused giver of care.
- Allow yourself to say “No” to obligations or invitations. You may have to limit just what you are able to do. Decide early, letting family know. Tradition often has to be exchanged for whatever is better for you and the care receiver. Live up to the expectations that Jesus sets for you, not anyone else’s.
- Permit yourself to say “yes” to offers of assistance. Don’t be shy to ask either.
- Be positive and hold onto the beauty of Christmas. Holidays are for memories, joy, and reflection. Spend time talking about past times, special memories, looking through photo albums. A care receiver may need this too. Even if the care receiver doesn’t join in verbally, you may catch a smile or they may close their eyes to savor those moments.
Memories affirm a sense of being valued and loved.
- If the care receiver is able, involve them in decorating or making some of the food. (Mama had special ornaments that she enjoyed seeing up every year so I made a point to have her tell me where to place them, letting her do what she could. One year, both of my sisters were here for Thanksgiving. Rather than have turkey and dressing, we made ravioli which Mama’s Italian father had made all of his life. We three girls made it as Mama shredded up the spinach and directed us. She loved it, especially the eating. We were told it was “close to Grandpa’s.” We have precious memories of that day.) Play Christmas music. Sing together. Watch a Christmas movie from the era of their memory.
- Depending upon the care receiver, friends and family visits can be important. It is usually best if just one or a few at a time are with the person. If the loved one lives in a nursing facility and cannot come to the place where the family is gathering, then small groups should go over and spread the joy out throughout the day.
- Pray with or over your loved one.
- If you have family members coming to your home and they have not seen the care receiver for a long time, sharing changes that have occurred since their last visit can be helpful if ongoing communication has not happened. Sometimes we have estranged family members who are going to be there. For some, nothing you could say will be heard or taken to heart so silence may be the best way to handle that. They just need to spend time with the person. (My mother would often be so ‘together’ when my sisters would show up, but over their week’s stay, ‘the Mama’ I dealt would usually appear! If the visit was short, one sister would go away wondering what my problem was for she say nothing much changed.) My best advice would be to just let it happen as it will.
- Gift-giving: If you are a family member or friend of the caregiver and receiver, visits and certain gifts can and should be given year-round. Giving the caregiver a break is a wonderful gift: hiring a professional respite team to care for the loved one, or care for the loved one yourself. Take meals from time to time, but often. They can be prepared, frozen, gift certificates to local restaurants. Asking if the caregiver needs anything often is answered with a “No,” but that usually is not the truth. Offer assistance and then do it. For the care receiver, gifts of music, comfortable clothing, bird feeders, photo albums, puzzles, games, are all possible gifts. Think about the caregiver when giving a gift to the receiver for if a gift causes more stress on the one giving care, then it really is not a gift.
- Sharing our faith with one another is really what Christmas and Easter are about. Our stories of God’s saving grace should bring us joy no matter what the situation is with the one needing care. He is the source of joy. His river never runs dry. The one with limits now needs to hear this beautiful story no matter how sad you may feel about their condition or impending death. Our faith may have stemmed from them. They need to hear how they made a difference in your life. If they do not know Jesus as their Savior, sharing your faith is the most beautiful gift you can give them. You may never know if they accept Christ but God knows their heart and takes them Home if they asked Jesus into their lives. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrew 11:1 We all need to be reminded of God’s forgiveness and His promises, especially the promise of eternal life.
Father, I pray for each one who is a caregiver facing the holidays with mixed feelings. We are so very thankful that You sent Your Son into this world to bring salvation and love, forgiveness and mercy. Please hold us close to You and remind us of why You came for us and why You have placed us as the giver of care to one of Yours. We pray that we have Your words ready and accessible to share and that Your love shines into the outside world. We lift each other up for You know where we are this day. You know the price may be high in the task You have called us to do. We also know that You give us the strength, the countenance, the ability and Your love to do the job set before us. We thank You, Father, for going before us in all we do and in all we are. We pray in the Powerful Name of Jesus. Amen.