I had the misfortune of finding myself shopping in Walmart today. Mom wanted to stock up on some things prior to surgery, so she wouldn’t have to worry about it when she is released from the hospital after her surgery.
Any kind of giant store like Walmart makes my vertigo go crazy. The entire store is sensory overload, and then there’s the constant dodging of other customer’s carts. Mom went to get her hair done so I was left alone to shop. (And if you’ve ever shopped with an elderly woman, you know it’s preferable to shop alone!)
As I sped through the Christmas gift section, to get from the pharmacy department to the grocery side of the store, my gaze picked up a gift box of men’s cologne. It immediately gave me a pang in my heart. Every year, I would buy Dad one of those box sets of cologne. I would usually get Stetson or Grey Flannel. It was an easy to select gift that I honestly never put any thought into. Dad wasn’t into presents, so he never asked for anything specifically. I didn’t want him to feel left out so I tried to get him almost as many gifts as I would get my mom, who would gush over every little cheap trinket I would get for her.
Dad always seemed to appreciate the cologne, even if all he did was mumble a thanks when he opened it. He definitely used it every day, and the scent of men’s cologne will always remind me of my father.
Neither of my parents were able to see their relatives during the holidays. They all lived across the country or across the globe. So my mom started a family tradition by sending her relatives in Tennessee fruitcakes for Christmas.
Did her family really like the annual gift of the holiday dessert that has long been the butt of jokes? Well, one of her sisters said she froze it, so I’m not so sure. (I think it may still be sitting in her freezer!)
Well, after watching Mom order a slew of fruit cakes each year for her family, Dad decided he wanted to get into the fruitcake-ordering frenzy. Of course, things were a bit more complicated because Dad’s relatives were in Ireland and Australia. So there were some shipping snafus (and expenses) involved. I remember hearing nothing but fruitcake ordering drama for a week or so, until it all got straightened out. And Dad’s family never received another fruitcake! (I’m guessing they were secretly relieved!)
But I’m reminded of our family’s fruitcake story every time I see an ad for Collin Street Bakery.
It’s funny how something as trivial as an ad can bring back a memory so clearly.
I was reading this blog post today about gift ideas for loved ones with dementia. The holiday season can be awkward when you are trying to accommodate those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. I think often, we as family members go to one extreme or another. We either bombard the poor souls or we pretend they don’t exist. As usual, the solution is somewhere in the middle.
First of all, there is no “one size fits all” solution. Each person with dementia will react to the holidays in a different way. For example, Dad was never sentimental about the holidays and his interest didn’t change once dementia took hold. I did buy him a personalized New York Times edition from his birthday and birth year once he was in about the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s. I wish I had bought it for him sooner. I believe he was able to look at the pictures but I believe his reading ability was limited by that point. It was a gift I had meant to buy years earlier, for Dad loved newspapers and history.
So one has to try to relate to their family member with dementia as much as possible. I think generally speaking, low-key, small gatherings are best, because they don’t stress out a dementia sufferer with too many unfamiliar faces and too much commotion. But again, I heard a story recently about a woman who suffered from dementia and who had loved to cook the big holiday meal before dementia took over.
So what did the large, extended family do? They each made a dish from one of her recipes, and pretended that she made it herself. The little old lady took her place at the head of the table, wiped her brow and exclaimed how tired she was from all of that cooking before digging in. The new tradition went on until she passed away.
Sometimes gifts don’t come wrapped in paper and bows. They are recreating memories of a loved one and sharing in the joy of those happy times.