Experiencing the Joy of the Season Amidst Holiday Grief
At this time of year, you can't escape the spirit of the holidays. Whether it's the tinsel and ornaments in stores, the continuous holiday music on the radio, the greeting cards in the mail, or the calls from friends (like expert Dorian Martin noted in her recent column), the holidays are staring us in the face.
For most, this means lots of good cheer. I hope it will for you as well.
But I know that this season can be particularly difficult for caregivers whose loved one is living with Alzheimer's disease and perhaps even harder for those whose loved one has passed. Evidence of this is the calls that come into the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) around now: from family members first noting the signs of the disease to others asking how to cope as they try to hold on to holidays past; astute healthcare professionals looking for tips to pass on to clients.
In fact, in recent weeks, we have received a large number of inquiries from agencies about reprinting an article entitled "Holiday Grief: Strategies to Gain Gifts of Strength and Renewal" from the fall 2007 issue of AFA's magazine for caregivers, care ADvantage. (It's been the most widely requested article to reprint so far in the history of our publication.)
For example, this reprint request came from Robin Holmes, senior hospice volunteer manager at Hospice of Aroostook, Caribou, ME: "Our hospice program provides grief support literature to our bereaved caregivers.... I believe this article would provide comfort and gentle guidance to our grieving caregivers."
As you probably know, Alzheimer's disease is often referred to as "the long good-bye." So caregivers typically experience a grieving process while loved ones are still alive, as they grief the gradual losses of the illness, following by a second grieving process after they pass.
In "Holiday Grief," author Julie Davies notes that while many of us feel grief during the holidays for a number of reasons, "proper management of these feelings can relieve some of the negative physical and emotional effects that make holidays difficult, letting in some of the peace and joy of the season."
One of the major keys: allow yourself to grieve and develop coping strategies that work for you. How someone moves through the grief process will be different for different people. Among Davies suggestions are the following:
Pamper yourself. Think of what you would do for someone in your situation and give that favor to yourself.
Write about your emotions. Keeping a journal of your thoughts can help you vent them and help you document and evaluate your progress.
Indulge in humor. Listen to the laughter of children. Read the comics. Sometimes it's laughter that leads to the relief that healing tears can bring.
Change your routine. Sometimes creating a new routine can help you fill the void with something positive.
Help others. When you become strong enough, you may find it fulfilling and healing to serve others.
This holiday season, my wish for you is to gain the gifts of strength and renewal.