One thing that helped keep the Lockphy Murphart Christmas celebrations merry & bright was sharing as a trio – and reaching out to other family in the area – what we wanted to do over the holidays. Whether you are living in your long-time home, have recamped to smaller digs, are in an independent living or a continuous care community, take the time to go over with your children your holiday plans hopes wishes. There is nothing worse than a parent expecting to be with children over the holidays only to find out their house is packed with guests from away ~or~ they’ll be off visiting family/friends. Unless it is the kids planning a big holiday whoop-dee-do featuring their parents, grandparents, only to find they’re going to be celebrating in Hawaii.
If you are a care partner, either a family member or an assistant, plan a special time to discuss the holiday with the older person. Instead of asking, “What do you want to do for…?”, come prepared with suggestions, options. They can open the door to what the older would like to do & might not think of on their own. Become an investigator, ferreting out what they would like to do. And don’t put your keen interest or utter ho hum (or even humbug) about the season affect your listening – pay attention to what they say, rather than what you’d expect. My mother’s expectations of the season were very different from Mom Murphy. As was their ability to get around. Mom depended on our wheels – or maybe Peter’s, if he was in touch that year – to shop, while Mom M’ lived in the city & could get herself to a variety of shopping areas. Mom was the very embodiment of Christmas Past, Mom M’ – not so much. But she had her Murphy traditions that were important to do – putting out the cozy village (now in The Retreat) atop the piano, checking with John on what to get her daughter-in-law (me!).
Mega warning – it is easy for children to have unspoken, usually unrecognized but very strong expectations of how parents or grands are meant to be over holidays. The holidays worked for the two of us because we put our focus on our mothers – what they wanted, were able to do. Mom at 89 could no more baked & decorated batch after batch of Christmas cookies than flapped her arms & flown around the kitchen, but she sure loved picking them out at Lochel’s Bakery! We scaled down traditions to what worked for her & gave us all pleasure.
With our dear friend, Anne, we’d talk about the holiday around Thanksgiving. One thing I learned was not to remind her that this or that child would be away over Christmas. Unnecessary stress. The last few years were made special in our eyes, since John & I had the fun of going over the plans as if for the first time at every meal or outing with Anne! By talking to her children, we knew what each family was planning for the holiday, so could avoid unintentionally setting up expectations for something that wasn’t going to happen. Instead of telling her, “Anne, we talked about this the other day,” we jumped right back into whatever was being discussed as if it was the first time. And we kept our ears peeled for what gave her special joy & did more of it. By last Christmas – which turned out to be our last Christmas with her – we had her likes & loves down to a science!
Here’s a smattering of what I’ve learned over the years from our parents & friends about setting up for a happy holiday:
- Make a special time to review with older loved ones or clients their hopes for the holiday season. Open the discussion by asking if they have any thoughts on the holidays. Be ready with suggestions & options as prompts.
- Where needed, discuss scaling down past traditions to make new ones that are simpler but still pack a holiday punch. Make them part of the process.
- In discussing plans, take into account their physical condition. You’re going to have a problem if you plan family holiday party in a place with a long flight of steps. (Actually happened to my mother!) If you’re layering events- like church followed by dinner – build in some down time for them to take a breather or get a rest.
- Don’t set yourself up for the depression over the holidays – too many care partners stress out over providing an idyllic holiday experience. Cut yourself a break!
- Don’t try to replicate the past – be in the present.
- KISS – keep it simple, sweetie – and everyone will have a happy holidays!