Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Joy for the Holidays.

Well, it's that time of year again - the holidays. I'm always a little melancholy and nostalgic around this time about my parents and the ways we used to celebrate, but every year takes away more of the sadness and regret and I enjoy the ways my husband and I and our friends now observe the holidays. I look around, however, and I can see how grief and society and expectations can make it so hard to feel any kind of joy when you're dealing with illness or death.

Facilitating for the Bereavement group this year really made me aware how difficult this time of year can be for people who have recently lost a loved one or who are caring for one. Everything that people once enjoyed and counted on and looked forward to every year changes, and the pressure to be happy and enjoying the holidays while dealing with fatigue, grief, and stress can be crushing.

I remember what that was like just after my mom died, and again when my Father's illness became really bad, but over time my nostalgia has become gentle and faded and easier to bear and I can feel a little joy again as this time of year approaches. I just want to say to everyone feeling grief this month, that it will get a little better, although it might not seem like it now. Give it time, and the holidays will come to mean something else just as special, if not exactly the same.

I can't have my dad back for the holidays, but I can enjoy making the special cookies he likes, bringing them over to his home, and watching him take a bite of one. I can see him enjoy the taste of peanut butter and Hershey's kisses, even though he may not remember my mom making them, or the fact that they were his favorite. I won't be with him for Christmas day, but we'll go see him the day before or the day after and sit with him for a while, and I will feel grateful that he's still around, and that I found a place he likes where the people love him and care for him. And on Christmas day, my husband and I will take it easy and relax and eat and watch tv and make our own special holiday, that isn't the same as the ones I used to have, but which are just as good.

If there's anyone reading who has not gone through grief or the burdens of caregiving this year, but know someone who has, I urge you to reach out to that person. You don't have to do anything special, just let them know you're there to listen or help in any way you can. Bring over some cookies or one night's worth of dinner, and then eat it with your friend. If you have some time, offer to look after their caree for a few hours so they can have a break, or you could also offer to pay for a half day of adult day care. There are so many ways you could bring joy to someone in pain, and they don't have to cost a thing, nor do you have to brave the mall.

I have, over a long period of time, been able to find a certain joy in the holidays, despite the hard things that have tried to interfere. Whether you are grieving a loved one, or tired from giving 24-hour care, or sad that your spouse or parent is suffering from illness or dementia...take care of yourself, and take some time for yourself, and don't worry about crappy, unrealistic holiday expectations. But do try to find a little bit of joy, something about which you can be grateful or happy or that brings you just a moment's worth of pleasure.

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