I’m not sure where the year went, but it definitely swooshed by. It’s hard to believe it is Christmastime, even with two trees and a complete army of nutcrackers scattered throughout the house.
Holiday movies threaten to overflow my DVR. They all have a similar theme: a person who loathes the holidays, but magically “gets” what all the fuss is about. A Hallmark movie can turn the Grinch into a Santa’s helper. Life is not a movie, and not everyone has a magical moment each holiday season.
Holiday sights and sounds greet us everywhere we go, beginning earlier and earlier each year. All that holiday joy and ho-ho-hoing can be a bit much for those who are dealing with the unpredictable nature of dementia.
Three important lessons I learned throughout my ten Christmas seasons as a caregiver:
(1) simplify sights, (2) simplify sounds, (3) simplify traditions.
For most of his adult life, Jim was pretty much a Grinch about Christmas. He thought it had become so commercialized that it had lost its meaning.
In some ways, dementia made the holidays a little more tolerable for Jim. In other ways, it only added to his confusion. One year, I was putting framed family photos in a box to clear the shelves for Christmas decorations. Immediately after I cleared the shelves, Jim put the photos back where they had been. That was my first clue that he wasn’t as crazy about the decorations as I was.
More than the decorations, I think it bothered him that I was changing his familiar environment. I learned to simplify the sights of Christmas. The holidays can be entirely too bright for a person who is confused. And it just isn’t as much fun for the caregiver to do all the decorating alone and even less fun taking it all down.
Christmas can be a noisy holiday with traditional parties, dinners, and loud holiday music. When you combine dozens of conversations with music and piles of food, you are just asking for trouble. Communicating with a loved one with dementia is an acquired skill. Rapid-fire conversation is hard for a person with dementia to follow and can bring about a negative reaction. Simplify the sounds of Christmas. Replace noisy gatherings with soothing traditional music your loved one will remember from his or her childhood.
Simplify traditions by getting rid of the ones you have clung to through a sense of obligation. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t expect your loved one to tolerate it. Do the things that make you happy. If your idea of a good Christmas is a quiet evening at home, then do it. Most of the stress of Christmas is caused by trying to meet the expectations of other people. Those who truly care about you are not going to want to add any more stress in your life.
Simplifying your holiday can bring the joy back to the season. The spirit of Christmas isn’t wrapped up in glittery packages or found in a department store. The spirit of Christmas is a child wrapped in swaddling clothing, placed in a manger. The spirit of Christmas is love, peace, and a light that shines within our hearts and souls.
Copyright © December 2017 by L.S. Fisher