Tag Archives: holidays

Remember those mourning amid holiday cheer

It’s the ninth anniversary of my father’s death, and that also means it is time for my annual PSA (public service announcement) about being gentle and non-judgmental with those who choose not to celebrate the holiday season because they’ve lost someone during this time of year.

The coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 300,000 lives in America will put a damper on this year’s festivities. But I also noticed the opposite effect, with neighbors putting their Christmas decorations up well before Thanksgiving. Both are natural reactions and we should respect the way individuals choose to cope.

This year as I reflect upon the anniversary of my father’s death, I remembered a detail I came across in a card he had attempted to write one of his sisters, but no longer had the cognitive function to address and mail. He had written in the card that he had been diagnosed with the swine flu. He had not received such a diagnosis, but the H1N1 pandemic was in the news at the time. Dad had latched on to that to explain what was happening to his body. That memory came back strong this year as the coronavirus pandemic unleashed its fury across the world.

Related to the pandemic and the need to wear masks, I also am reflecting on the fact that Dad would likely have been anti-mask. In 1986, when I was 12, wearing seat belts became mandatory when driving a vehicle in California. I remember many heated arguments in the car because of my father’s stubborn refusal to put on his seat belt. He claimed wearing the belt was constricting and made him feel like he was choking. Sound familiar this year? As an ill-advised compromise, Dad would drape the belt over his torso, but not latch it. Fortunately we never had any serious accidents. According to the Los Angeles Times, my father was part of the majority who at the time did not wear seat belts on a regular basis.

It has been the strangest and most challenging of years and the holiday season is no different. Connect with those you love however you can safely. Offer words of comfort and healing to the many who are grieving.

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Holiday gift ideas for dementia caregivers

We could all use some good cheer and a thoughtful gesture after such a challenging year. It you are looking to get a gift for a dementia caregiver, here are a few ideas.

Self-care: Family caregivers are notoriously bad about taking care of their own needs, but caregiver burnout puts everyone at risk. Caregivers are often short on alone time, so take that into consideration when choosing gifts. A candle with a soothing scent, calming tea, music to lift the spirits, a book of daily inspirational posts —choose something that will allow a caregiver to enjoy a momentary respite even while they are isolating at home with their loved one. Take a look at my CBD gift guide for other self-care gift ideas.

Homemade gifts: Whether it’s a favorite dish, a knitted item, a phone call or a handwritten card, showing you care in your own special way makes for a thoughtful gift. Family caregivers, especially of those with dementia, often feel isolated as friends drift away, uncertain how to navigate cognitive impairment. Simply reaching out with a small token of affection is worth more than you can imagine.

Helping hand: If you are a handy person, consider offering your services to repair something in or around the caregiver’s home (of course taking precautions due to the pandemic.) Or consider a subscription to a meal delivery service, or a gift certificate for grocery delivery or delivery from their favorite restaurant. Anything that will ease the burden of maintaining the household will be appreciated.

Genealogy: Some people with dementia remember the past better than the present. A gift for a genealogy service or scrapbooking materials for those who are not digitally inclined can be a gift for both the dementia caregiver and the loved ones they care for. Capturing those family memories is priceless. Gathering old photos and assembling them while remembering family stories can be a wonderful bonding activity. I find both the online services and scrapbooking to be enjoyable. This is also a good project to do while housebound due to the pandemic and/or inclement weather.

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Happy Halloween: May there be more treats than tricks

Many may have mixed feelings about celebrating Halloween in such a difficult year that has been filled with so much real-life horror and death. For those who have lost a loved one, the sight of neighbors decorating their lawns with grave and skeleton decorations may seem insensitive. For those who have children or others in their lives who love celebrating the holiday, it may be important to maintain some semblance of normality.

I definitely feel both of these perspectives when I take the dog on neighborhood walks. Some decorations are quite elaborate and creative, and make me smile. Then I feel an inward cringe when I see the grave markers with RIP stamped on them. I can’t help but think of all of the lives lost this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Personally, I love Halloween and enjoy the spooky decorations more than Christmas ones. But I remember feeling a similar ambivalence about Halloween the year my mother died, though she died months before the holiday. I instead focused on the happy Halloween memories we had as a family.

I also had a critical reaction to seeing Christmas decorations being put up at the hospital where my dad lay dying in the ICU. When you are in a family health crisis mode, your perspective narrows. How dare all of these strangers celebrate the holiday when my dad is dying? Realizing the world doesn’t stop for you is a tough, but necessary lesson to learn.

Happy Halloween to those who do celebrate, and hope you receive all treats and no tricks. And if you are grieving and struggling with seeing Halloween decorations, I understand. I hope you can have a quiet night honoring your loved one’s memory.

A free treat for all: You can get both of my books, The Reluctant Caregiver and CBD for Caregivers, for free through this Halloween giveaway.

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Grief at the holidays

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Whenever I learn of someone’s passing during the holiday season, I feel an extra pang of sympathy. Losing a loved one at any time of the year is devastating, of course. But there is something about loss during a period of such joy for others that is particularly painful.

Today it has been eight years since my father’s death. So much has happened since then, yet it’s still hard to believe that it has been so long since his passing. I remember how odd the Christmas decorations and Christmas music blaring everywhere seemed to be after I learned the news of my father’s passing. It’s a tough lesson to learn in such a fragile state: the world goes on without your loved one.

If you find yourself grieving this holiday season, cut yourself some slack. Don’t feel obligated to put on a happy front. There are many others just like you who feel conflicted emotions during this time of year. Hopefully over time, some happier memories will filter in through the grief. If you know someone who has lost someone during the holidays, reach out to them and offer your support.

I hope you and your loved ones have a holiday filled with peace and love.

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Happy holidays

mom-dad-xmas

Mom and Dad at Christmas, circa mid-1980s.

The holidays can be stressful for caregivers, but they also offer moments of magic and the potential to create memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life.

I hope that you enjoy the time spent with family and other loved ones over the holidays. For those of us remembering those who have departed, it can be a comfort to reflect upon happy moments and favorite memories.

And if you feel yourself being overworked or stressed out, don’t be shy about asking for help!

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Gift guide for those living with dementia and their caregivers

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Pixabay

The holiday season is in full swing. As you are tackling your shopping list, you may have someone on your list who is living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia and may be unsure as to what an appropriate gift would be for this person.

I ran into this issue with my father, during his last couple of Christmas holidays at home. One year, I got him a New York Times book reproducing the newspaper from the day and year he was born. While he couldn’t read much anymore, he could look at the images and advertisements and get enjoyment from that.

Here are some gift ideas from The Advocate for those with dementia, and please, don’t forget their caregivers!

Personalized gifts: Like the book I ordered for my father, gifts that evoke memories of the past are a good choice for those with dementia. One could offer to help the family put together a scrapbook or photo album by buying the supplies.

Activity-oriented gifts: One thing that is often overlooked when caring for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias is that the person often still craves to engage in hobbies or tasks. They don’t want to be left in a room to stare out the window all day, especially in the early to mid-stages of the disease. Adult coloring books, art projects, easy puzzles, etc. make thoughtful gift choices.

Joy-evoking gifts: Those with dementia often still respond to music and other audio-visual cues even as their other cognitive abilities decline. Think about Glen Campbell, and how he could still sing and play guitar well into his battle with Alzheimer’s. If you know the person’s favorite genre of music or a beloved performer, you can give the gift of music, which can soothe and lift the spirits of those with dementia.

For the caregiver: Think about easing the workload when picking out gifts for caregivers. A gift card to a favorite restaurant or a meal delivery/grocery  service would likely be appreciated. Try also to pick out a gift specifically for the caregiver to use for self-care, such as a gift certificate to a spa or movie theater. If you are in the position to do so, offer to give the caregiver a break from duties.

If the dementia caregiver in your life enjoys books, consider The Reluctant Caregiver, my award-winning collection of personal essays on caregiving.

One of the best gifts you can offer those with dementia and their loved ones is simply your time. So many people withdraw upon learning of a dementia diagnosis that it can lead to social isolation. A compassionate ear and an open heart will be appreciated by all.

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Never too old to love Santa

Santa Claus

Julia Freeman-Woolpert/Freeimages

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.

 

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Memories of humble, yet happy Thanksgiving meals

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.

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What is a Memory Bear?

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

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A new season, full of old memories

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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.

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