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Enjoying Special Occasions
By Jennifer Kay, L.C.S.W.
Holidays and special occasions can
bring out the best and the worst in us. The prospect of
wonderful, happy times abound, filling us with somewhat
unrealistic hopes for our relationships. We are often
disappointed by how these special occasions turn out.
Add to the normal tensions of holidays, the image of
someone you love being ill or incapacitated, and you
have the makings of very difficult times. Many times we
wish we could just disappear until the holidays are
Caregivers may have unusually high expectations during
holidays and special occasions. Knowing that this might
be a last birthday, anniversary, Thanksgiving, Hanukah
etc., caregivers may feel enormous pressure to make this
time especially significant. The caregiving family
faces the normal tensions families experience in the
holiday season, but their resources are usually
depleted, energy levels are low and free time is
Some thought and careful planning can make these times
easier. First and foremost, we need to try and think
about what we really want to happen. Are you looking to
have a quiet day? Is it important to have anyone in
particular with you? If you are a caregiver you must ask
yourself, "What am I up to doing?" Honor your answer by
not doing more than you feel you are comfortable doing.
If you choose to have company at these times, make it as
easy as possible. Don't assume all the responsibility.
Ask your loved one what he feels up to. Most people
usually like to have those they love, and feel
comfortable around, with them. Limit these occasions to
family members and a few close friends.
Encourage honest communication between the entire family
including close friends. Although your loved one may not
seem to know exactly what is going on, try to remember
that most care recipients have a real sense about
themselves, their illness and what is going on in their
world. Don't allow the person's illness to replace their
Families can share their sadness and disappointments by
openly communicating about them. And, while you do not
need to force cheerfulness, don't forget that humor
makes many of the difficulties of life easier to bear.
Keeping your level of expectations realistic will make
the day go more smoothly for you, your loved one,
extended family and friends. Remember that whatever you
choose to do this year does not need to be the same as
the past or the same in the future. If sandwiches on
paper plates served in the bedroom are all that is
possible, don't try to cook a turkey dinner.
The best advice for caregivers is to be realistic.
Expect the normal tensions of family togetherness. Let
others know how they can make the holidays easier for
you. Don't overdo it. Recognize that you may be
physically and emotionally depleted. Try to read,
exercise, eat well and get some time alone. Try to stay
in the here and now; anticipation is always worse than
the actual event. We cannot predict what tomorrow will
bring for anyone, so enjoy this day without needing for
it to be perfect. Let yourself dispense with the
"institutional" nature of the holidays and look for ways
to make the day meaningful for yourself and for your