My Holiday Letter to You

Dear Friends,

Happy holidays!

Here’s little update on our fam. Bill is an administrator at the University of Northern Iowa. I am a professor of Gerontology. Gus-Gus, our resident geriatric dog, is now 17 and wears a belly band. His eyes are cloudy but he’s thriving. Carlos, our youngest pup, is now about 6. His hobbies include trying to eat cat food and borrowing under blankets. Our three cats continue to be furry terrorists who do things like knock everything off the mantle and attempt to seize control of the counter.

Sounds like we will be getting a new puppers in the next week or so. We will be adopting from an animal rescue that takes in disabled and geriatric dogs. You want pics? Oh, you’ll get pics.

But about my holidays wishes for you….

I really don’t care what you celebrate. Hannukah? Christmas? Winter Solstice? National Pumpkin Pie Day? National Consumer Rights Day? Any/all of the above? My message here is the same.

Have the best possible holidays.

Not the most perfect holidays ever. Not the most exciting holidays ever. Not the most awe-inspiring holidays ever.

Just the best possible holidays.

You don’t have to have four different kinds of pie. Each person doesn’t need a dozen presents to open. It’s fine if you don’t get around to putting up a tree. You can do minimal decorations. You can buy pre-made stuff for dinner. You don’t need to organize post-meal games and entertainment.

Let it go.

Seriously. Let it go.

Many of us love the holidays. Some of us don’t. And, really, quite a few of us probably both love and hate the holidays all at once.

If your family is impacted by dementia this year (or if you’ve lost someone recently), the holidays might not look the same.

And that’s okay.

I read something the other day that stuck with me.

Everything ends, and that’s okay.

It reminded me of the times in my life where I’ve held onto something too long. A romantic relationship. A friendship. A job. A hobby. Even a pair of jeans that doesn’t fit anymore (because I am going to lose the weight, right?).

It takes a lot of energy to hold onto a tradition when everything around that tradition is changing.

The yearly family tour of holiday lights. The gingerbread house building contest. The all-day holiday movie marathon. Midnight mass. Early morning worship service. The 6am present opening start time.

Maybe it worked before. Maybe it doesn’t work anymore.

Everything ends, and that’s okay.

Someone with dementia may not have the stamina for an all day holiday celebration. It’s okay if they only stay for 45 minutes. It’s fine if they go take a nap in the bedroom. If they have little patience with loud and excited children, allow them a quiet space to regroup. Or get the heck out of there.

The holidays are different now. It’s okay.

I know from experience that you can get take out for Christmas dinner. The local grocery store cooks it and all you need to do is re-heat it. Maybe you are going to miss mom’s sweet potato pie, but you will survive. And clean-up is easier, too.

You know what happens if don’t have the time or energy to go out and buy holiday gifts? You can shop online. If that’s too much, you can give cash or gift cards. And, you know, if you aren’t in a position to be able to give gifts, people understand. And if they don’t understand, they’re jerks and that’s their problem.

The holidays can be pretty dang joyous, but they’re a lot. They’re a lot for people living with dementia. They’re a lot for care partners.

Small gatherings might be better than big gatherings. Short intervals with kids may be better than long intervals with kids. Quieter may be better than louder. Less lights might be better than more lights.

And, as is my advice year-round, always have an exit plan. Maybe it’s a hotel. Maybe it’s a quiet room at a gathering. Maybe it’s a conversation before an event where you explain that you’ll quietly slip out when the time is right–even if it’s only 20 minutes into the gathering.

Oh, and don’t feel the need to explain all of your decisions to family members who don’t even try to understand your reality. They don’t have to get it. In fact, they probably won’t.

As for me, this is goodbye. Not forever. But at least until spring semester starts in January.



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