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As the holidays approach, stress levels tend to rise and expectations (often unrealistic to begin with) run amok. It can be a recipe for the ultimate disaster if we aren’t careful. Chances are, if you’ve been a caregiver for a while and your loved one is in the advanced stages of the disease, you know all too well what I’m talking about.

But for those who may be less seasoned, I thought it would be a good time to share a bit about how our holidays changed as my mom’s condition deteriorated – and how we coped (and are still coping today).

Check out Holiday Hoopla: Don’t Let It Get You Down. My hope is that this short piece may help you create reasonable expectations and limit your own heartbreaking disappointments.

Holiday Hoopla was written in 2012. Mom had taken a turn for the worse in the late summer/early fall and I believed we had reached the end of the road. I canceled a pre-paid trip to Mexico at the last possible minute in September, but to everyone’s surprise, she began to bounce back a bit.

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, Jess and I were emotionally and physically worn out. If there was any chance of making it happen, we really needed a couple of days away. Mom seemed to be doing well, stable at least. She wasn’t having the horrible days and nights that we’d experienced in September and October, so her caregivers encouraged us to take our Chicago trip.

Happier holiday times, circa 1990. Mom, age 54

They reassured us she would be just fine, and after much deliberation and a healthy dose of guilt we packed our weekend bags and drove to the Windy City. I knew Mom would be well cared for, and we would be better for having had a few days away. If anything happened, they would call and we could head back immediately.

Although we were on edge Thursday and Friday, receiving no phone calls led us to believe things had at least remained status quo. What a relief! Or so we thought.

We drove back Saturday and arrived to find the wheels had essentially fallen off the bus in those 72 hours. It was a steep decline and one from which Mom wouldn’t rebound… On December 15, 2012, she earned her angel wings.

We still go to Chicago for Thanksgiving – it has become our new tradition. The trip gives us something to look forward to instead of spending three weeks dreading the impending holiday. It’s not the same as the wonderful Thanksgivings we had as a family; however, those times are distant memories. November and December will never be what they once were. But, life must go on…and it does.

However you decide to spend the holidays, I wish you joy and peace – most of all peace. Remember that only you know what’s best for your family and your unique circumstances. Be well, my friends. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.