Celebrating Elder’s Anniversaries Can Be Painful

  • My mother always told me not to get married at Christmas time. She and my dad eloped December 26, 1940. It sounds very romantic. But they spent the rest of their lives trying to fit in an anniversary celebration around the Christmas holidays. It even became a family problem during times like their 25th and 50th anniversaries, when we wanted to have guests and a big celebration. I took her advice to heart.


    Even though my parents are both gone, December 26th is a day I always mentally mark, and it's not always with joy. While it was a bit chaotic during their prime, it was still fun. They found ways to celebrate, even if it wasn't on the day. However, the whole anniversary celebration became a nightmare during their last few years. Of course, much of this had nothing to do with the Christmas season, other than there was always so much else to do besides trying to celebrate this event.

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    After my dad's brain surgery left him with dementia and he moved into a nursing home, I continued to make their anniversary a "big deal." It really was for my mother, as Dad didn't fully understand what we were doing, though some years were better than others. Everything depended on how he was that particular day.


    The celebrations would go something like this: I'd pick up tiny, individual bottles of champagne and chill them at home. I'd get a card for Mom to give Dad and a card for Dad to give Mom. I'd order flowers for Mom from Dad (this continued after she joined him in the same nursing home a few years later).


    The day after Christmas, I'd bring with me little champagne glasses they had received from friends on their 25th anniversary. I'd bring the cards and chilled champagne. I'd give Mom the card for Dad and she would sign it. I'd sign the card for Dad to give Mom and put it in his room on the table next to where Mom would sit. The flowers would be delivered to Mom.


    I'd then take Mom to Dad's room (glass, champagne and card in a tote). I'd help Mom sit down, then gently nudge Dad awake and try to tell him what was going on. I tried, the first years, to get him to give her the card, but he didn't understand, so eventually I just left it on the table and told her it was from him. I'd pour champagne into the little glasses, help Dad toast Mom, open his card from her and show him, then help him sip, if he could.


    We'd spend some time visiting, I'd clean up, take Mom back home (later years, it was back to her room), and I'd go home emotionally spent. Was it the "hard work?" Not physically. It was the emotional pain that was so wearing. It was going through the motions of a celebration that was only understood by half of this couple. It was knowing that this was important to do, all the while keenly aware of how one-sided it was.


    The "celebration" was painful for Mom, but it would have been more painful to do nothing. Dad would have wanted to celebrate that day. He was a sweet, thoughtful husband. So, painful as it was, it was just something we had to do. If he needed to be "operated" like a marionette, so be it.

  • Dad died on December 2nd, which meant that that December 26th was a painful day to remember, but also a hard day to ignore. I mentioned the anniversary, that year, to Mom, but she was very "tired" that day, and so the day passed. She died the next May, so there were no more anniversaries to "celebrate" in any fashion. Yet the day never goes by without some heaviness in my heart.

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    Some celebrations need to be scrapped when dementia takes over. But when one person wants/needs the event to be celebrated - even though we, the caregivers, feel like actors in a very bad play - I believe it is worth the effort to go through the motions. Hard as it was, I have no regrets. Yet, I still have work to do. I have to try to find some joy in December 26.


    To learn more about Carol, please go to http://www.mindingourelders.com/ or http://www.mindingoureldersblogs.com/

Published On: December 27, 2007