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…
The arrival of the holidays brings a flood of competing emotions for me. Exactly two years ago today, we brought hospice on board. It was a time of both despair and relief; things were changing moment to moment, and we had reached a whole new level of helplessness and desperation.
No matter how hard we fought, it seemed as though Alzheimer’s might be winning. Engaging compassionate hospice professionals brought a measure of comfort to a very uncomfortable situation – comfort in knowing we were surrounded by angels who were not only knowledgable, but also caring and empathetic. They were “all in” from the moment they arrived, and I felt like we were the most important family in the world to them.
Two years ago, we still held onto hope that with the intensive support, loving care, and indisputable expertise of hospice, mom might rebound one more time. However, that wasn’t meant to be. So, Thanksgiving remains a powerful, heart wrenching reminder of those final few weeks…
But this is also a time to reflect on the many blessings that have enriched my life over the past year. First and foremost, of course, are my family, faith, friends, and health. Without these, none of the rest would be possible.
I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to touch and be touched by so many caregivers and advocates through this blog, my Facebook page, the USAgainstAlzheimer’s Support Group, and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias.
I’m grateful to have attended the WomenAgainstAlzheimer’s Out of the Shadows Summit this fall in Washington, DC, to be a founding member of ClergyAgainstAlzheimer’s and a contributor to the group’s first book, Seasons of Caring (December 2014). I’m thankful to have been a member of the steering committee for our local Walk to End Alzheimer’s and for the friends and supporters that generously contributed to our team, Marilyn’s Mighty Memory Makers.
I’ve crossed paths with some of the most passionate, inspiring people on the planet and been presented with countless opportunities to make a difference over the past year. I took a leap of faith, leaving the company I’d been with for almost 27 years, to join an organization with a strong mission I believe in. Five months later, I can say with confidence it was the right move and I’m finally where I was meant to be. For those things, I’m grateful.
I’m thankful I have been able to keep my mom’s memory alive, and that her spirit shines brightly on the world every single day. I’m thankful she’s still teaching me new lessons, inspiring me, and that she continues to touch thousands of lives. And I’m thankful to feel her presence on a regular basis.
To say I’m blessed is an understatement, but oh how I miss my mama.