Did You Share Holidays with a Grumpy Loved One?

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide
  • When I was a little girl, my mother and I loved Christmas–with the baking, decorating, shopping for presents and attending parties. It was always so much fun… well, until my controlling father got mad at a relative or two and silly family feuds went on just below the surface–which we weren’t ever allowed to speak about.

    We’d walk on eggshells each year hoping the holidays would go smoothly–but it was always strained with ominous foreboding that my father would snap into a rage at someone over something, which usually happened after he’d been real nice for a while and we’d let our guard down.
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    And then over fifteen years ago, when my father disowned my only brother (nine years older than myself) over the most ridiculous argument–the holidays became even more torturous and sad, as they amplified the depths of our dysfunctional family. I became an incredible actress, trying hard to enjoy a time that was supposed to be of peace and harmony and always showed a united family front to everyone, while inside I was full of angst and turmoil.

    Years later… after our parents developed early Alzheimer’s disease, I did my best to supply my mother with holiday cheer by bringing up the few sweet memories, but she always remembered the sad times too, which surfaced easily because my elderly father still disliked holiday fanfare and hoopla. He’d glare at anyone who came to visit and made it clear he wasn’t in the mood for company.

    Then after many years my brother sent Mom the most beautiful loving Christmas card, which was such a delight for her to receive–but by the morning it had been torn up in little pieces and thrown in the trash by my vengeful father. My mother cried and cried, and as I sorrowfully comforted her and shamed him, I wondered how a man could come to hate his own son so much. His lifelong negative behavior pattern of jealousy and holding on to grudges–was becoming even more intensified and ridiculous–with the onset of dementia.

    I tried for years and years to get my brother and father back together, but it was no use, and that effort ended up costing me my own relationship with my brother for a decade. But now that our parents have passed, and even though I took care of them for five years without any help from him at all, I have managed to reestablish a relationship with my brother. I am so grateful I didn’t end our relationship for good, as I thought about many times, because when I was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly three years ago, he was the voice I heard most often when I answered the phone.

    My brother still rarely speaks about Mom and he won’t discuss Dad at all. He seems to still be so bitter, so I guess the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, which is so sad.

    I am trying hard to create lovely new memories of the holidays with my brother, the few family members who are left, and my many wonderful friends–because if I ever develop dementia myself I hope I won’t have to relive the overwhelming dread and unhappiness I experienced for so many years. I want to be able to recall delightful holiday times–again and again.

  • If you have been coping with a challenging person who made your holidays even more stressful, my heart goes out to you-I know exactly how you feel. Be sure to let us know how you did or didn’t get through it!
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    You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at ElderRage.com.
Published On: January 02, 2007