On Christmas day, 2021, I took my parents’ dog for a walk by myself. My Dad’s nausea was bad that day and my mom’s grief was worse. My own children and husband were 800 miles away. All around me happy families seemed to be strolling along, multiple generations together enjoying the lovely weather. I’ve never felt so alone.
I few days earlier my father had been released from the hospital and for a very short time, he was feeling a bit better. Christmas day looked like it might be kind of normal. Dad even asked if I would make him some macaroni and cheese for the holiday meal. Enthusiastic about his request and the potential for normalcy, I went online to figure out how to make the BEST MAC AND CHEESE EVER!
Unfortunately, the actual holiday turned out to be a VERY BAD DAY. Dad couldn’t eat anything, much less something so cheesy. The worst thing wasn’t how sick he felt, it was how disappointed he was. He kept apologizing to me that he couldn’t eat.
For many reasons, holidays are very hard for caregivers and their family. As our friends at the Family Caregiver Alliance say, caregivers may feel resentful towards other family members, feel left out of family gatherings they cannot attend, feel more overwhelmed than ever, and feel grief over change.
There are no Hallmark movies about leaving your life in the big city to go home and spend the holidays providing 24-7 care to a loved one. Instead, you are the spectator to everyone else’s warm family time. It feels like you have your face pressed against a window looking out at another world you can’t be part of anymore.
I will confess to feeling murderous rage towards all those happy families walking along, grandparents, parents, kids, cousins, dogs. I passed one person’s yard (it was Florida) where they had tables set up outside for the holiday meal, to accommodate their big family coming, I guess. They had a lot of nerve being so HAPPY AT ME.
If you google “caregiving at the holidays,” you’ll see that nearly every article that comes up starts with “Tips for…” They rightly recommend asking for help, paring back your expectations and to-do lists, and taking time for yourself. They tell you to reflect, adapt, adjust, and so on. You know all the things.
None of that helped me. Looking back now, though, what I can say, for sure, is that you will GET THROUGH IT. Even though I knew it was my last Christmas with my Dad, or maybe because I knew it was, I was happy when that day was over. And then it was behind me.
The other thing I can say, for sure, is that other people are going through it. Even though it feels like you’re alone, you’re not. There are a growing number of online and in person communities, including at Daughterhood, for caregivers to connect with each other. We are here for you. Please check out our circles page to get connected to each other. Even if you only have a short moment, find out that you are not as alone as you think.