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The Holiday Season for Caregivers

Article on Caregiving. January 1, 2018

This is the time of year for family celebrations. It doesn't matter whether you observe Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or you're just happy the days are getting longer and you see it as a good excuse to get together with family and friends. It doesn't matter whether you observe the season with humility and gratitude for what you have, or hold parties that you'll regret the following morning. Even the most ardent cynic has to acknowledge that this time of year is special.

But it can be a source of distress for those thrust into the role of caregiver. What is there to celebrate when your loved one can't help decorate the tree or prepare the extravagant meals or even make the trek to the mall alone to get that special gift? Is there any point to celebrating? Is it even reasonable to do so?

These are questions each of us has to answer for ourselves given our circumstances and our penchants. But I think it is valuable to offer some principles to help guide caregivers in whatever decisions they make. Here they are:

Pleasure is better than pain. You can spend the holidays agonizing over what you've lost or are losing, or you can decide that this year, despite the demands on you, you will extract what enjoyment you can from the season. How? Read on.

Despair is amplified by isolation. Go out to that coffee shop in the mall and watch the children awed by the turmoil. Admire the bright lights and gaudy decorations. See the lineups at the gift wrapping booth and imagine the excitement the giver and the recipient will share. Now, you may object that a gloomy mood makes this advice pointless, but the key phrase in it is, "Go out." It is hard to be amid excitement without some of it rubbing off.

Family and friends are like gold—most of them, anyway. So arrange to get together with the family members and friends you love. Phone that sibling or distant relative you haven't spoken to for a while and ask how they're doing. Invite them over for a visit. Ask if they'd mind if you dropped in. And if they say no, take comfort that you've taken the high road.

Most people are kind. Yes, there are curmudgeons and there are some, even family members, whom you don't want to be around. But most people are friendly and helpful if you give them the chance. So call that man or woman you met and liked and suggest you meet for coffee. Find a drop-in center and drop in. No agenda; just a chance to chat. As a caregiver, you need human contact. Seek it out.

Finally, your caree probably knows this is the holiday season and probably needs some love and support. It may be hard when you're despairing, but if you can arrange for an outing or give a gift or just offer hugs and words of affection, that will boost both your spirits.

But, you may ask, isn't this just good advice to follow throughout the year? Why focus on it at Christmas? My answer is yes, do these things continually. Why focus on Christmas? Because the world has given it to you. It would be a shame to waste it.