Saturday, December 15, 2012


“Insanity means doing the 
same thing, over and over,
and expecting different results”
~ Unknown

How much is enough? How many gifts? How many guests? How many items on your to-do list? The holidays are a time of abundance, so rarely do we think of “enough” except when we wonder Do I have enough time?  or Do I have enough money? Some would say that it takes guts to manage the holidays in the best of times. Ernest Hemingway defined guts as “grace under pressure”. But surely for you, the caregiver, there is a better way. What if you were to do the holidays differently this year? 

Perhaps you’re already thinking you’ll plan sensibly to organize festivities in a simpler way, but will that be adequate? Let’s take a deeper look at how you can have more of what you most need and want from this holiday season. For starters, you can’t get what you want unless you clearly know what you want, and also know how to get it.  Instead of going down that familiar road of Christmas Past, let’s explore ways to diminish the pressure and increase the peace. You, your loved one, and your family may find yourselves all having a more joyful and meaningful holiday.

Making Magic

As a caregiver it’s normal to assume that the success of the holidays lies squarely on your shoulders. After all, you’re pretty much able to manage the rest of the year. Why not now? Because Everything is more at this time of year, on the emotional plane as well, and most especially when you are the caregiver. As the emotional weight increases, so does the yearning for life as it once was. The holidays are a time of dreaming, sprinkled with the magic of yesterday. Even if you were capable of recreating what once was, if you allow expectations to creep in, you could be setting yourself up for exhaustion and disappointment. What can you do and what may be too much? 

First let’s look at some common caregiver expectations, and then at alternatives that may give you a better holiday. Don’t give up on the magic—you can make a new kind of magic, even with the present circumstances. 

The Holiday Essentials
 “Once in a while you have to
 take a break and visit yourself. “
~ Audrey Giorgi

Each of us has aspects of the holidays that are dear to our hearts. When you think of them, you smile. Just the thought gives you energy. What are yours? When you can identify what is most important to you, you can let go of the aspects that are draining. In the reclaimed space you might even connect more with yourself, generating peace in your heart that can source the whole holiday. Consider each of the following questions, looking for the answers that are absolutely true for you. Open your mind. Step back from your assumptions, looking for choices that you may not have considered. Writing down your thoughts will let you be more objective.

Preparations: What holiday preparations are truly necessary to you and which are essential to your loved one? Which ones give you or your loved one energy? What other aspects seem in some way important but actually drain you? Which ones might you dispense with or delegate to others?  
Guests: Who clearly needs to be present to bring the holiday alive? Who is most important to you, and who is important to your loved one? Could you manage to tell “certain others” that you’re scaling down, doing a simpler holiday this year? Of those that must come, who could stay nearby at a motel instead of with you? 
Food:  Which aspects of food preparation are a true joy to you or your loved one? Would it be okay with you if family brought some or all of the meal? Or could the meal even be ordered from a nearby restaurant? “Sacriledge!” I hear you say, but think about it!
Gifts: Would the family consider giving only one small gift per person or doing a yankee swap? Could you give simpler gifts— the singing of a song, reading a poem, or giving a special photograph, beautifully framed? Could you focus more on the gift of being together and less on the giving of things?

Partnering with Others

What would be possible if you asked others to partner with you in new ways this year? Including more family in preparations can increase holiday warmth. If you have friends who feel like family, talk to them too. We can’t always choose our family, but we can choose our friends. They might be touched to be honorary family in the simplification of your holidays, even those who may not be joining you. 

Family: Individually or at a family meeting, could you invite others to be on a holiday team, each picking one thing from your to-do list that would ease your load? Could a nearby family member offer respite care to give you time off from caregiving?
Friends: If you have friends who have been saying “How can I help?” is there a small service that they could do to give you some relief or make you feel less alone? By accepting help you gift others with the opportunity to give.
Professionals: Could you hire someone to do the housecleaning? Might you find respite care through a local senior center or assisted living facility to free you up from caregiving for a couple of days?

Some family members may think they know what would be helpful but need a little re-educating. They won't know what help looks like to You unless you tell them, so clarity and honesty can also help in getting you the help that you want and need.

Paring Down Commitments
"Besides the noble act of getting things done,
 there is the noble art of leaving things undone.
The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
 ~ Lin Yutang

What might be possible if, just for this pre-holiday, you pare down your commitments? People will understand if you have limited energy and resources this year. Give yourself a “time-out”.

Non-family: What are your on-going commitments to friends or organizations? Which commitments to friends may not be necessary between now and the holidays? Could you let organizations know that you won’t be available for the next few weeks? From which obligations might you like to permanently DE-commit? Does your workplace give special support to family caregivers during the holidays? It doesn’t hurt to ask. 
Family: What services or favors do you regularly do for other family members (including kids) that they could do for themselves? Could others take on the tasks that keep the household running?

If possible, include your loved one in these explorations. Let him/her be a part of the thinking, planning, and doing—participation is empowering for everyone. So now that you’re a little clearer about what’s necessary for a joyful holiday, how do you communicate with the rest of the family? 

READ PART TWO to learn ways to manage the people, your family and guests, to maximize the chances of creating that greater peace.

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