The holidays are a wonderful time of year to celebrate your faith, enjoy special times with family, attend gatherings with friends, and relax during extended days off. But for the person with dementia and their primary caregiver, it can be difficult to have this idyllic kind of holiday. And as families become more mobile and live all over the country, getting together with family is harder to plan. Dementia is also a challenging disease that impacts mood and personality. The person with dementia is no longer that same wonderful, loving, smart, caring, funny person they were 20 years ago, and these changes complicate holiday celebrations.
new, wonderful memories can still be created.
The primary caregiver is the person most impacted emotionally as holiday rituals begin to change. The dementia patient often doesn’t even know it is a holiday, but the caregiver still has expectations based on a lifetime of memories. However, new, wonderful memories can still be created. This is the time to take a deep breath and realize with just a little planning, you can still have a memorable holiday. It may not be the same holiday you had the last 5 years, but it can be just as joyful.
To make this wonderful holiday happen, you may have to be a little more proactive in your planning. I found myself in this situation a month ago. Thanksgiving and Christmas were approaching and Jim and I had no plans, no one to spend any time with but ourselves. While that would have been fine, my real desire was to spend part of either Thanksgiving or Christmas with some part of family. About the same time I started thinking about this, one of Jim’s caregivers told me she had no one to spend Thanksgiving with. I asked her if she would like to spend it with us, and she said yes. So in the space of a minute our Thanksgiving group went from two people to three – an increase of 50 percent. Things were starting to look up!
Now is where the proactive part came in. I knew if we were going to be with any part of our family, I was going to have to reach out and talk to someone. I couldn’t sit around and wait for the invitations to roll in because that probably wasn’t going to happen. So I called my nephew in Virginia Beach and told him I really wanted to spend part of one holiday with family. He immediately told me I needed to have Thanksgiving dinner with him, his family, his in laws and extended family. Wow! That sounded great.
I immediately accepted this wonderful invitation and we went to Virginia Beach – Jim, Kim the caregiver, and me. I found myself at Thanksgiving eating at a table with about 15 other people – half of whom I had never met. But I can honestly tell you I had a fabulous time. We also got invited to another dinner the Saturday after Thanksgiving, had another Virginia friend come over to visit, and went to church with our Virginia Beach family on Sunday. What a special weekend it was!
My takeaways from this experience is that if I want Jim and I to have the best holiday we can, I need to:
be open to having a new kind of experience,
plan something I can manage without a lot of major effort,
plan something Jim would be comfortable with,
maintain a close-to-normal routine for Jim during these days away, and
build in time to relax
The key to having a special time at Thanksgiving was to be honest with myself about the kind of holiday I wanted to have. Then I had to talk to family and friends who could help me make that happen. With this little bit of effort, we were able to create a holiday that was much preferable to spending our Thanksgiving weekend alone.