The decisions caregivers of elderly loved ones must make during the Christmas holidays are fraught with opportunities to make mistakes in judgment. Chief among them is how much to include a loved one who has dementia in the festivities.
Will the Christmas tree bring Mom happy memories of past Christmas pleasures or will it remind her of the Christmas tree fire in her home when she was a five year old child? Will the gathering of loving relatives bring her a feeling of being loved and cared for or will she suffer from horrible anxiety because of all of these people who have become strangers?
Is it better to leave Dad, who now lives in a memory unit at a wonderful assisted living facility, to your home for the family gathering or should you let him have a quieter Christmas and visit him in his new home - the memory center?
The most frustrating and painful part in this stew of choices is that, in most cases, there is no right answer because we are aiming at a moving target.
Depending on where Mom is in her mind on that particular day, the Christmas tree may bring back wonderful memories or it could bring back that childhood horror. The gathering of loving relatives may seem familiar to her or it she may be too lost in her dementia to remember any of the people, thus making the group a crowd of frightening strangers. You, the caregiver, will have no way to know how your mom will react on that day.
The same, of course, goes for Dad. If you bring him home, will he enjoy his time there remembering good things and then return to his memory unit home without a problem with readjustment? Or will the home you brought him back to just seem like another strange place that causes anxiety and more turmoil? Worse yet, will taking him out make it harder for him to readjust to the memory unit once he returns?
By this time you will already have made up your mind about how you are going to handle these and other complicated holiday decisions. All that I can say to you now is that you’ve done the right thing.
Yes, whatever you decided can backfire, but you have no way of predicting the future. You made the choices with love in your heart and with the best intentions for all concerned. Whatever the result, you will have done your best. You’ll rejoice in the results of this year - or you’ll somehow cope if the outcome is difficult.
I hope that all goes well for you. However, I’m sending my heartfelt understanding to you because I’ve been in your shoes for more holiday seasons than I care to count. Some have gone well. Others have been chaotic and begged to be forgotten. However, I do know that I have done - and am still doing - my best, just as you are.
Don’t let go of this truth. You haven’t made mistakes in your Christmas planning. If there are things that you wish would have gone smoother or if this is a year you’d like to forget, drop the guilt and move on. That’s all we can do. We cannot predict how someone will respond to our best efforts. We try and then we let go of the result.
Our best is good enough.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.