Making Hard Decisions During the Holidays

  • Butter was melting, onions sizzling. Seasoning looked right and a little taste told me it was time to add the dried bread, stir and start adding water. I was making stuffing for Thanksgiving.


    "It's the stirring that makes the difference."


    I heard my mom's words, her voice as strong as it had been when I was young, though it had been several holiday seasons since her death. My arthritic arms hurt, but I stirred away. Looks good to me, I thought. Would Mom think so? Several holiday seasons have passed since my mother's death, but she will always be directing me as I prepare holiday dinners for my family.

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    Mom was an excellent cook. I'd rather read a book. I've always been that way. However, as a girl who was raised in the 50s, I learned to cook from my mother. And there are still a few things I make that could pass as hers. Turkey dressing is one that could. There's no recipe. It's a technique passed down through generations. My younger sister - the baby of the family who just turned 50 this summer - loves my holiday meals because they are "just like Moms." They are even served, these days, on Mom's china.


    My house is in the same town where my parents, aunt and uncle, and in-laws lived, so my house was the natural place for holiday gathering during their declining years. That way, my sister and I could visit the nursing home, where various loved ones lived, and still have a sort of traditional Christmas for our children.


    I think of Mom with pleasure, now, as I fix these meals. When she was still living, but too frail to bring to my house, I'd think of her just blocks away, while I was cooking, and it brought me pain. I wanted her there. But I knew reality was such that having her there wouldn't work for either of us.


    Dad was also living at Rosewood at the time. They would have their meal together. I would bring them special treats Thanksgiving morning. My sister would stop and visit later in the afternoon. But we didn't go to Rosewood for our meal with Mom and Dad. Some people were not very understanding of that routine. But we had to do what was best for our families, and that meant an imperfect Thanksgiving holiday for everyone involved.


    If we'd had a situation where one or two holiday seasons we had an elder in a nursing home, then we would have been able to pretty much skip the home stuff, tell the kids we were going to spend most of our holiday at the nursing home, and get on with it. However, the way it worked with my two decades of eldercare was that if I didn't make some hard choices about how and where to put my time, my children would have gone 15 years without a home Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. Their holiday memories would have totally revolved around a nursing home. Fifteen years is one huge chunk out of a kid's life. I didn't think that was right, and I knew my parents wouldn't have wanted it that way, either. Some of my most treasured memories are of our home holidays. I wanted my children to have at least a semblance of that.


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    Therefore, I did my best for all. On holiday mornings, I brought the treats to the nursing home for breakfast, the kids visited and, as I mentioned, my sister and her kids visited late in the afternoon. Mom and Dad ate their Thanksgiving meal together in the dining room, or in one of their private rooms, depending on how they felt. The following day, I would bring turkey sandwiches, which was Mom's favorite, on bread she loved, with cranberries and black olives, when I went for my daily visit. I then started decorating their rooms for Christmas and made plans to help Mom with Christmas cards.


    But our holiday meals - the main event - for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, were served at my home with my kids and my sister's family. I needed to make memories for my children which included the elders. But I did not want to have all of their memories to be nursing home memories. They needed to be kids and deserved some time for a home celebration.


    My kids learned a lot during all of the years of elder care. They shared me with their elders with little protest, and visited the nursing home regularly. Most of it was good. Some was not. But I did my best to not send the message that they were less important to me than their grandparents. I did my best to give them some memories of home holidays, like I still have from my childhood. The balancing act was very tricky. I failed at the perfection I sought. It took years, but eventually I learned that what I did simply had to be good enough. It was all I could do. Alas, I'm a caregiver, but I'm also human.


    If all were not pleased all the time, I'm sorry. I did my best.


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Published On: November 26, 2007