Good riddance dementia’s holiday stress. This is the year that I vanquish you.
You snuck in the side door a few years ago, uninvited, along with dementia. But I’m onto you now. As I look back on the last few holiday seasons, I see the error of my ways.
I see you now
I played right into your hands and gave constant thought to how different dementia made things around the holidays. Instead of living in the moment and enjoying it, I was focused on the fact that it wasn’t like the past. The more I thought about it, the more I fought it and wished things were the way they used to be this time of year, pre-dementia.
You got me back then but not anymore. No longer will I fall into your trap. I’m done comparing the present to the past. I won’t throw away the memories, no. But I won’t pine for the past either. Because doing so is the deepest source of my dementia induced holiday stress.
Wishing things were the way they used to be doesn’t make dementia go away–even just for a day at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I tried that and know it doesn’t work. The only thing it did was raise my stress level at times I should have been busy soaking in the moment(s).
What I should have been doing all this time is clear now as I look back. Cherishing family, our time together and what we do have. The holidays are different now that dementia is around. For sure. But they’re still a treasure. So treasure is what I’ll do.
Gateway to the holidays
It’s Monday of Thanksgiving week, the gateway to the holiday season. That’s how I’ve always thought about this week. Except for the last few years, when it morphed into something different.
Rather than a slow build of excitement–for a break, for family time and for holiday cheer, over the last few years its transformed into the gateway to a dementia fueled holiday stress vacuum. Fretting about everything and thinking about nothing, more and more every day.
But not anymore because now I know, really believe, that different is just….different. Holidays aren’t what they used to be before dementia joined the party and that is ok. There are new memories to make.
So long to dementia’s holiday stress
So I’m not spending this week being filled with stress about what is to come. I’m not driving myself crazy wondering about how Mom will do and getting tangled up in “I wish it was like it used to be” thinking. No more dwelling on what used to be and what she, and we, have lost.
Instead, I’m focused on staying in the moment. I’m not losing sight of where dementia is in its assault on Mom. I am adjusting accordingly (see some great tips from The Mayo Clinic here) but not getting lost in it. I arrive at the gateway to the holiday season in 2019 excited to make new memories, determined to remain thankful for what we do have and enjoy the time together–as family.
I’m focused on working out our holiday schedule so that it sets Mom up for success, not so it’s like what it has been in the past. And I’m concentrating on cueing up some Thanksgiving meal-prep projects we can do together. Can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner but that’s beside the point. Mashing potatoes? Rolling out pie-crusts? Doing dishes? Sensory benefits, feelings of accomplishment and participation for Mom–all of which present an opportunity to make new memories.
The moments won’t become memories for Mom but she will feel them. So what if she can’t put a timestamp and place and face on them in her mind? That doesn’t matter. How we feel, together, making them does. Worrying about anything else would be missing the point.
Here’s to shedding dementia’s holiday stress in 2019.
This post was scheduled to be published on Tuesday, November 26 but we were bogged down with Thanksgiving preparation. Rather than scrap it, we’ve updated it with how things went.
The plan worked. Wahoo! It worked!
It was an inauspicious start as I climbed out of the car having completed the 3 hour drive to pick Mom up early Wednesday morning. I walked into her assisted living community and was told she was in the movie room.
I entered the room quietly, found her in her usual spot in the front row and said hello in a warm, excited whisper. Even though we had just spoken an hour earlier, she seemed surprised and maybe even a little disappointed to see me.
When we got out into the hall, with tears in her eyes, Mom told me she didn’t want to come. She said there’d be nothing for her to do at our house and she didn’t want to be in the way. The words cut me but I knew they weren’t meant to. And more importantly, I knew it was Alzheimer’s talking and not Mom.
Settled in and stayed in the moment
While I hadn’t expected to hear this, I was ready. I let the unexpected reception roll off my back and stayed positive, happy, and excited for our Thanksgiving adventure. In a matter of minutes, Mom was feeling it and we were off.
And that would be the only significant hiccup in the entire 3 day adventure. Huge win. Of course patience and expectations were tested at times. It’s not that Alzheimer’s presence wasn’t felt. It was a constant presence. Nevertheless I stayed committed to the plan and didn’t get lost in it. We lived with it–and had a blast.
Our condensed schedule seemed to be just right. Mom never had the opportunity to feel that she was in the way and we (mostly the kids) kept her entertained. We never did get her involved in food prep but she washed a ton of dishes on Thanksgiving day–and seemed to enjoy every minute.
That all helped. Being so focused on little ways to set Mom (and us!) up for success meant less time to lament what’s lost. Most of all though, it almost forced us to stay in the moment–and with that came…joy. A brand of joy, completely untethered from stress, that I hadn’t felt in the past several holidays. Not once did I do the rapid fire mental comparison of this year to those gone by. Not once.
Good riddance holiday stress!
It was all about these moments, this year, with these people whom I love so much. For Thanksgiving at least, the plan worked and I am grateful. I believe Mom is too.
Looking forward to trying it again in a few weeks to soak in the biggest Christmas gift there is–time together. There aren’t any guarantees but confidence is high.
So for now anyway, good riddance to dementia’s holiday stress!
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