alzheimers, alzheimers holiday tips, caregiving, caregiving at the holidays, dementia, holiday stress, holidays with alzheimers, thanksgiving, thanksgiving with alzheimers
There’s one Thanksgiving that is forever etched in my mind for all the wrong reasons. Although it occurred eight years ago, in many ways, it feels like yesterday. When I think of the November holiday that I once looked so forward to, the first image that comes to mind is from 2010.
As I thought about writing this post and what tips I might offer to help you make the most of your holiday, I found myself overwhelmed. It took several days of contemplation for me to come to the realization that it really all boils down to one simple – yet extremely difficult – concept.
Weeks before that fateful Thanksgiving in 2010, I had unwittingly crafted an idyllic vision of how it would go. This wasn’t deliberate, but my subconscious went to work on how the day would unfold, what the preparation would look like, how the meal would come together, and most importantly, how my mom would be that day – her mood, frame of mind, level of agitation, ability and desire to participate, and all the other things that go along with Alzheimer’s.
Of course, at some point, my subconscious went off the rails – thus the dreaded idyllic vision. I’m sure memories of beautiful holidays complete with cherished traditions, found their way into the mix. Without even realizing it, I had set myself up for disappointment, profound sadness, anger, grief, and a dozen other emotions. Naturally, there was no way this Thanksgiving could be compared to or measured against those blissful memories.
In this particular case, our reality bore no resemblance to idyllic. Mom was having a bad day. A very bad day.
That evening, I, along with Mom’s two caregivers and my daughter sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. By then, the food was cold, and my stomach was in a million knots. My dear mother was pacing and screaming as she had been all day. She was utterly inconsolable. Severe aphasia had long ago robbed her of the ability to communicate verbally, leaving her unable to express what was bothering her – or anything else, for that matter.
To Mom, that Thursday was just another day. It wasn’t her fault; it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was this damn disease, all part of the unexpected hand we’d been dealt. Simply put, the picture-perfect holiday I had envisioned dissolved into a pool of tears and when it was over, I swore off all future Thanksgivings.
I could close by listing my top 10 tips for a successful holiday celebration, but instead, I’ll gently remind you to be careful of your expectations. Keep them reasonable. Check yourself along the way and make sure your subconscious isn’t taking over and creating an expectation that the day can’t possibly meet.
Rather than working to create a holiday just like those of years gone by, focus on the current reality. Remember that too many people, a lot of noise and commotion, and sudden changes to routines can really throw your loved one for a loop. Plan accordingly. Spending quality time together and making cherished memories – when it’s all said and done, those things are much more important than setting an impeccable table or serving a perfectly plump juicy bird at 4pm sharp. Flexibility is your friend and goes hand in hand with maintaining reasonable expectations.
It sounds cliché, but the past is in the past, and today is all we have. Try to go with the flow, relax, and create moments of joy wherever you can. Treasure the simple things – an unexpected smile, warm hug, or the expression on his face when he tastes a favorite dish that just might trigger a moment of clarity.
Here’s wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving with the people who mean the most to you. And, don’t forget to be gentle with yourself…
There’s so much love and grief in this piece, Ann. I get it, although I haven’t had a Thanksgiving this hard. In all of life, I need to learn to go with the flow. Although my memory holds strong, my severe hearing loss and the jarring assault of regular sound made by happy humans–with music in the background makes Thanksgiving hard. I do fine when one person speaks at a time–but that’s not the spirit of Thanksgiving. Everyone is talking, chomping, and laughing at the same time. Instead of following a secret desire to stay at home alone for the day, I went with the flow and accepted my son’s invitation to go with him to a friend’s home. His friend was having his large family, so we could join the festivities. Everyone was friendly and loving. The food was abundant and delicious. The jokes flew. I felt clueless and yet I did just fine having small tucked away conversations and receiving text notes from friends in California and sending them images of the full moon rising here. Many years ago, I asked my first meditation/philosophy teacher how he put up with a big dose of irritating behavior from one of his students. He said, “Lower your expectation.” This works well for me with most any situation, any friend, any pet, anything at all. I’m trying to learn to be with what is and not have impossible to duplicate expectations.