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Caregiver Survival Tips for the Holidays

By By Lisa J. Shultz

I have been taking care of one parent or the other for many years now. I find the holidays stressful in and of themselves. But as a caregiver, the holiday season can seem particularly difficult. Navigating the holidays puts more work on an already exhausting list of responsibilities. Holidays also bring up grief as memories surface of a previous Thanksgiving or Christmas where my dad was still alive or my mom was vibrant. Each of my parents made fabulous meals in the past. Now I must be the one to put a celebration together and I’ve realized I can’t be both a fabulous hostess and family caregiver.

I would like to share with fellow caregivers a few tricks I have tried or want to try in the future to ease the holiday season in regards to food.

  1. Don't try to do it all. Many grocery stores offer to bake the turkey and pumpkin pie for you. You can also order side dishes to go with it. Perhaps let the grocer do the majority of the work this year!
  2. Accept an invitation to eat at someone else's house. You may only be asked to bring one dish to share.
  3. Find a restaurant that is open for that holiday and make a reservation.
  4. If your loved one is at an assisted living facility, eat your meal there together.
  5. Eat something totally different than you usually do such as Chinese food. This choice might be a temporary break in your routine or the beginning of a new tradition.
  6. Take a night or trip away from home around the holidays. This excursion might be for you alone to replenish your energy or you may include the family for a special get-away or meal together. Some hotels decorate beautifully at Christmastime.
  7. Just skip a special meal this year. Head to the movie theater and enjoy a film.

And here are a few suggestions to consider if you are feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Christmas cards-It is okay to just send out an email blast instead or skip a year.
  2. Take a break on gifts or just buy a few gift cards and hand them out. Let the family know that you aren't shopping this year and want to keep it super simple.
  3. Enjoy an experience such as a play, concert or special dinner with friends and family instead of gift giving.
  4. If you like parties, go. But if it seems too much, politely decline and let the hostess know that you appreciate the invitation and hope to join them next year.
  5. Treat yourself to a spa day or massage as a gift to yourself!
  6. Curate your decorations to keep it simple. Perhaps it is time to give some away. Or don't decorate. Just visit a mall or lights display and leave the decorations in their boxes this year.
  7. Breathe and have faith that you don't have to do it all or do it all the way you always have. It is okay to begin new traditions and create new memories.

Lisa J. Shultz, author of A Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent and Lighter Living: Declutter. Organize. Simplify.