Ever since my father died five days before Christmas in 2011, the holiday season has been bittersweet for me. He also spent Thanksgiving of that year in the hospital, so both holidays are associated with sickness and death.
But each year, there are stories that reinforce the wonder of the holiday season and lift my spirits.
The story about a lovely woman named Karen, who has dementia but has maintained her lifelong love of Santa Claus, is one of those uplifting stories.
As Karen has moved into the latter stages of dementia and was recently placed in hospice care, her family made the wise decision to capture a beautiful holiday moment that her family will treasure for generations to come.
If you click through on the Facebook post above, you can read the entire story behind the photo shoot. I love the fact that Karen has a Santa doll and speaks Japanese to it!
Of course, not everyone with dementia reacts to holidays in a positive fashion, so it’s best to follow their lead. But don’t be afraid to indulge in some good old-fashioned fun this holiday season. We can all learn a lesson from Karen and her family.
Embed from Getty Images
I’ve never had patience for big family gatherings, probably because I grew up celebrating holidays with just my parents. That helped keep planning and bickering to a minimum. I have particularly happy memories of Thanksgiving, enjoying a humble but delicious meal and watching The Twilight Zone marathon throughout the day.
This year, thanks to the contentious election, I’ve come across several articles offering tips on how to survive the holiday with relatives. While I get that family stress is real, and kept my own visits home as an adult to a minimum, it is a bit sad that we need instruction guides on how to navigate a meal without suffering a nervous breakdown. Winning an argument or criticizing someone else’s viewpoint is more important to some than recognizing common bonds and accepting the imperfections in all of us. (That being said, I do not believe toxic family members should get a free pass; repair relationships where you can but move on when necessary.)
Over the last several years I have been preoccupied with family caregiving, and I witnessed the best and worst from my parents, and from myself. For those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, the holidays are a mixed bag of emotions. I am grateful for the memories of simply, happy Thanksgiving meals with my family, and I hope that all of you find those moments this week with your family and friends.
I couldn’t resist sharing this post from Bonnie, who makes the beautiful Memory Bears. This bear could have been made for my Dad, he was the ultimate Notre Dame fan!
As the holidays approach, those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one may be seeking a symbol of comfort and remembrance. A Memory Bear would make a lovely gift.
If you have recommendations on other thoughtful gift ideas for those who are grieving, I would love to hear about them.
As a child, remember holding that favorite teddy bear close to you. What a comforting affect teddy had on us. Memory Bears are very similar. A memory bear is made from your loved ones favorite clothing. Standing 22″ tall, a memory bear is soft and cuddly and just right to hold and hug as you […]
via What is a Memory Bear — Memory Bears by Bonnie
Fall is my favorite season. I love the cooler weather, and breaking out those sweaters. I like watching the leaves change color, though sometimes raking up all of those leaves is overwhelming! Hey, at least it’s good exercise.
But fall can be a difficult time for those of us who have lost loved ones. Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to escape the holiday spirit that takes over the country this time of year. I read this week that a radio station has already switched over to an all-holiday song format!
With the change in season, I’ve been a bit nostalgic lately. This photo with my father was taken in the fall of 2002. I can’t believe it has been 14 years. At the time, it had been awhile since I had seen my parents and my first reaction was that they looked “so old.” Little did I know what was in store. Dad would lose his mind to dementia, my mother would battle colon cancer.
But in 2002, my parents were enjoying a modest but comfortable retirement. I was earning a modest, but independent living. What we consider to be a mundane moment can turn out to be a moment to treasure.
I’m glad I have this photo with my father. It is one of the few I have before the dementia took hold, a moment in our lives when things were blessedly status quo. Don’t let those moments pass you by, document them if you can. You’ll be grateful for the memories later.
I know many of you out there are celebrating a less-than-ideal holiday. You may be visiting your loved ones in a care center. They may not be able to communicate with family anymore.
Or like me, you may be grieving the loss of a loved one today.
But as many of you have illustrated on your own blogs, wallowing in pity will not make the holiday season any brighter. While it takes effort, we must find ways to appreciate what we do have, and cherish the happy memories with those who have departed.
No day is perfect, just like no person is perfect. But every day and every person is special, if we only take the time to seek out the good.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and your family.
As I’ve written before I’m sure, Thanksgiving was my dad’s favorite holiday. He loved turkey! My dad was not one to get too excited about food normally, so it was a big deal to watch him devour slice after slice of turkey.
While I can still recall those fond family memories, they are unfortunately overshadowed by that Thanksgiving three years ago. Dad was in the ICU, clinging to life. I was trying to figure out when I should fly out, because I was working the entire holiday weekend. The nurse said he could pass in two hours or two months, there was no telling. As soon as I arrived to work on Black Friday 2011, I received the call from a nurse, frantically asking me if they should pull the plug on my dad’s life support.
I’m now back working in the same newsroom I was that day when I received that terrible call. Every now and then I’ll glance to that corner of the room and remember the pacing I did that day three years ago, trying my best not to completely freak out from the stress. I’m once again working the holiday, but from home this time. Thankfully I won’t have to mark the anniversary of those painful memories at the office.
So Thanksgiving is bittersweet for me. I still enjoy the food and try to focus on the happy memories. Life, and death, does not pause for holidays.
I hope somehow, somewhere, Dad is enjoying a few big slices of turkey.
Of course I am thinking of both of my parents today. As children grow into adults, sometimes holidays like Christmas seem more like a burden than a day to enjoy with your loved ones. Buying gifts, making travel arrangements, trying to get through visits without a spat, it’s enough to knock the jolly spirit out of anybody.
And admittedly there were many Christmases where I felt just like that. While I never actually spent a Christmas day with my parents after I turned 19, due to living so far away and school/work commitments, I would try to at least make an annual visit. I would usually choose somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can’t say I really enjoyed these visits. I do regret never having the chance to just take Dad aside and have some daughter-father bonding moments over a cup of coffee or beer. But then again, Dad was always a benign but forgettable figure in my life at that point. We weren’t close, we never had a deep bond.
Of course, having watched him battle Alzheimer’s for over four years, now I realize all of those years of lost opportunities. Dad never shut me out, but he wasn’t one to pursue a more active father-daughter relationship. I was relieved at the time that I only had Mom’s need for companionship to fulfill.
Holidays at their most basic are good excuses for families to bond together, to share stories and create their own unique traditions. While I can’t go back in time and change things in my own family, I can at least share my story and encourage others to embrace family bonding opportunities. What may seem like a mild inconvenience now may create memories that you will cherish forever.