traditions
“Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house, not a creature was stirring – not even a mouse …” It was a tradition for Dad to share a rendition of this seasonal poem with our family … my two sisters and I would gather around and hang on every word he uttered (I can still remember his soothing baritone voice). Things changed. Dad became affected with Alzheimer’s disease. Over the course of time, Dad lost his memory and his ability to speak … he became unable to continually share those lyrics with our family and may not have recognized the poem at all!

Undeniably, such family traditions, whether it’s Mom cooking the Christmas turkey, Dad stringing the lights outside the house or the children helping to choose and decorate the tree, play an important part in the holidays. Due to your aging loved one’s reduced ability to participate however, these traditions may have to be re-evaluated. Old traditions don’t have to be completely dropped. I’m simply suggesting these traditions be revised when family members become elder caregivers. It is more important who you spend your Christmas with than what you do with them.

Here are just a few ideas:

Go out for Christmas dinner: Consult with your family as to preferred restaurant choices and then call to make a reservation. This still allows for plenty of quality family time to talk through the evening but saves you the clean-up afterwards! Why not look for a restaurant with wheelchair access and bring Mom/Dad along? Another related idea might be to rotate Christmas dinner and have different family members host the event. Doing this means that one person doesn’t bear the brunt of the entire meal preparation him/herself. While my family’s Christmas dinner is now served at my sister’s home, we share the work load … I bring the pumpkin pies and ice cream as well as help with the dishes after our meal.

Donate to a worthy cause: You certainly don’t have to break the bank, but giving to a charitable association can become a rewarding tradition (even more so if you donate to a cause which Mom or Dad believed in). Another benefit is that charitable donations are often tax-deductible. If you can’t give money, give your time and/or energy. Over the past number of years since my parents have passed away, I have volunteered to drive for Santa’s Anonymous (an association which collects toys for needy children but requires individuals to deliver them). By doing this routinely, I have been reminded that by helping out someone less fortunate, you, in turn, can help yourself.

Try a new family activity: Although Mom or Dad may be unable to join you, suggest another family outing. Bundle up and head to the toboggan hill, go skating, strap on some snowshoes or cross-country skis or go for a family walk with the dog (stop by the park and build a snowman!).

If something warmer strikes your fancy instead, watch a seasonal movie at the theatre, light a fire at home and sing carols or pop some popcorn and make popcorn chains for your tree.

Create a photo seasonal ornament: If Mom or Dad remains bed-bound in a care facility (or have passed away), hang a picture of them from the tree. You can find a small picture frame at a craft or photography store, insert the photo and dress it up festively however you like. By placing this on a tree branch, the family can still know that Mom / Dad is part of the day.

Incorporate some of the old: Someone else may cook the turkey, but you can still use Mom’s dressing recipe. If you have always set out the fine china for dinner, continue to do so. Mail out the traditional family Christmas letter to distant friends. Hang familiar Christmas ornaments from the tree. Allow youngsters to break open their Christmas stockings before breakfast. Carry on with placing received Christmas cards on the living room bookshelf or the fireplace mantle.

Yes, the holiday season focuses on celebrating with family, sipping eggnog and exchanging gifts with those you love, things cannot always be the way they have been (especially for informal family caregivers). Look back by all means, but also look ahead.

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Rick Lauber
Rick Lauber is a published book author and established freelance writer. Lauber has written two books, Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide (Self-Counsel Press) as valuable resources for prospective, new and current caregivers. He is also very pleased to have been twice-selected as a contributor in Chicken Soup for the Soul: It’s Christmas! as well as Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Cat. www.ricklauber.com.

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