The Caregiver Cup Podcast

Navigating the Holiday Season: Tips for Caregivers

November 28, 2023 Cathy VandenHeuvel Episode 189
The Caregiver Cup Podcast
Navigating the Holiday Season: Tips for Caregivers
The Caregiver Cup Podcast
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Navigating the holiday season as a caregiver? Expand your toolkit with our personal stories and practical advice to create new holiday memories and traditions that bring joy and simplicity. As a caregiver myself, I've encountered many of the challenges and emotions that often arise during this time of year. I've learned valuable lessons along the way - from acknowledging my feelings to accepting the helping hand of a loved one. Trust me when I say, you're not alone in this journey, and this episode is designed to equip you with strategies for managing holiday stress and embracing the present.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the holiday expectations? Let's put an end to that. We cut through the noise of what 'should be' and remind ourselves to say 'no' to overwhelming expectations and 'yes' to embracing the present. Through personal anecdotes and shared experiences, we guide you on a journey towards simplifying your holiday season – focusing on creating new traditions, letting go of high expectations, and realizing that it's okay to accept help. The tips we share are not just practical, they're life-tested, helping to transform your holiday season into a time of joy rather than stress. So join, as we explore together the art of embracing simplicity and finding joy in the present.

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Speaker 1:

Well, hello, my friend, and welcome to another episode of the Caregiver Cup podcast. I can't tell you how happy I am to be behind the microphone or the podcast microphone again. I very seldom take a break and prerecord podcasts in advance or episodes in advance, but I had to because I had my surgery on November 15, so I recorded a few in advance. But now I'm back and I like to record my episodes as close to the Tuesday as possible, so this one I'm recording on the Monday before and I just have a set routine. That makes me feel like I'm closer to you and they're more live, if I can even use that word. But first of all I want to thank all of you who sent kind messages and emails to me. My recovery is slow, but each day I am progressing a bit more. The doctors are saying six to eight weeks. I go for my follow up on Thursday, so I'll kind of get an idea of where I'm at and what I can do. But at least now I can sit up and the fatigue is a little less than it used to be, and so that's a little bit better. In addition to that, I, dennis, had his, my husband Dennis, had his first round of Ketruda, which is his treatment plan now for the next few months for his Hodgkins. That came back and so he has to. Every three weeks he has to get this Ketruda shot through an IV and it takes about 30 minutes. I wasn't able to go with him because it was just that that within a week after my surgery but he felt like he had to flu the following days. But he said I think I can get in front of it by maybe taking some anti-nausea meds and stuff like that. And so it felt very different this year for Thanksgiving and I. It was weird because I made the decision that we couldn't host. There was no way we could host, I couldn't do things, I couldn't put all the work on Dennis, and so we told our kids to go ahead and celebrate differently and it felt good to have a quiet Thanksgiving. It felt good that I made that decision and I made the right decision. And today in the episode, as I look back at the last few weeks and thinking of you and I as caregivers overall, I couldn't but think about the holiday season and with the holidays coming up, things are different now as a caregiver and I want to ask you some questions that will lead into the podcast episode today. But do you feel the holidays are a good thing right now, or are they a complete opposite? Are you dreading the holidays? So that's why I want to talk about this topic today. How should we, as caregivers, be celebrating? How should we be feeling, how do we make it through? And those might be some things that you're tossing in your head. Or you're waking up each day just dreading the holidays, or they used to be fun and now they're going to be different. I want to talk about that because this holiday season may bring stress. It may bring emotions, it may bring pressure or added pressure and challenges that you aren't expecting, and I just thought about some of the three basic things, like, while everyone's out doing their shopping and parties and decorating and more, what are you doing? Are you over here struggling to stay positive? While everybody is feeling the season with music and concerts and looking at Christmas lights, you might be over here stressing to keep your head above water. I'm noticing, just as a sidebar, I'm noticing that my breaths are a little bit different, so just bear with me. And then add the pressure of figuring out how you are going to do the holidays yourself, because this is my seventh season as a caregiver during the holidays. I think one of the seasons was somewhat good, but the rest of them were hard, and so I was hoping this year would be a year that it would be normal, but the SARS didn't decline. In addition to me recovering from surgery, now Dennis is going on this journey of trying to go ahead and fight his Hodgkin's lymphoma again. So I want to share what I have learned, what the lessons that I've learned from as a caregiver in the holiday season, and why I feel simplicity and grace are the most important pieces to finding a bit of joy in the holiday season as a caregiver, and I know that each of us celebrates in a different way. Our cultures are different, our religions are different, so I'm going to just use the term holiday to not offend anybody in any way. So the first thing that I have learned as a caregiver and I want you to really think about this it's okay to feel what you feel. If you're feeling crabby about the holidays or you're dreading the holidays or you're sad, I want you to embrace that, while the rest of the world is making fun memories and celebrating kind of like the Hallmark Channels, which is just fictitious. You are in the midst of a very challenging season and you didn't ask for this, or you sure didn't want this. It's OK to feel sad, it's OK to miss the good old days, it's OK to feel like you don't want to celebrate, it's OK to feel jealous, it's OK to feel guilty, it's OK to feel angry, or it's OK to go out and close your eyes and dream about the past or have moments of happiness during the holidays. Whatever you're feeling, you're feeling, and you just have to be okay with that and really let it be. It's even better to share this with your closest friends share it with me via a message or find other caregivers, and it's okay to even share it with your loved ones, because most likely your loved ones are feeling the same way. I remember having this discussion with my husband two years ago, right before his stem cell transplant. It was a relief to let out our emotions and talk about how we felt, and it led to us creating special memories that we now embrace, and so it was okay to go ahead and be angry. It was okay to be frustrated. It was okay to do that. We created some simple, fun memories because of that as well. I mean something as simple, as we drove around and looked at Christmas lights with Christmas music on, because we had to be so careful that his immune system wasn't compromised and so we couldn't go to a lot of the family gatherings, we couldn't go to a lot of things. Okay, so that first one. It's okay to feel what you feel and, if you want, I think what's important too is to go ahead and share that with others and people that can get it and people that other caregivers that get it. Number two that I have learned is stop thinking everything has to be perfect and over the top. Simple will help you through with the holidays. I had to let go of this, everything being perfect. When I was a child, my parents decked the halls. I mean, they went all in. Even when I was a parent with little kids, you'd give that extra effort. My grandma was the master of striving for the best Christmas ever. When I was younger, she would bake pies. She would take everybody's requests and make sure she baked that special pie for everyone. Mine was lemon meringue, my dad's was custard and so on, and we would have formal sit down meals with the best china and everything served and the decorations were perfect. But as she aged, we moved into different things and she started simplifying it because obviously she couldn't handle it, and so we would go to like a buffet style, and then we went to hors d'oeuvres as that, she cut back on the desserts and she even simplified the Christmas gifts as we as, as the years went on. As a caregiver, what can we do to make things simple? You need to ask yourself what's most important. Will it really matter if you buy the cookies versus spending hours upon hours rolling out cookies and frosting and all of that and doing all of the candies and all of that, unless it's something that you enjoy and so people are going to eat a cookie, no matter if it's homemade or not? I mean, they may miss your homemade cookie, but this might not be the year. Will it matter if your home is fully decorated or a simple decoration? This year, maybe you put out whatever the special things that you have, and that's it for this year. In 2018, we, dennis and I, accepted a donated Christmas tree from this cancer organization, which was a huge relief because I had just lost my dad. That year, I was caregiving for my mom and Dennis was going through treatments every three weeks, and those treatments were four days in a row, and so having a Christmas tree delivered and not having to go ahead and decorate it felt different, but I just appreciate it. I think about now, too, that I think the pandemic made it more easy to do For me. I am not shopping in the stores because I can't physically pick up a lot of things and carry big, heavy things, and so I'm going to do all my gift shopping online and I'm going to save myself hours upon hours of shopping. Now, don't get me wrong, I might go and walk the mall or walk a store just to get the feel of it, but I'm not going to put the pressure on myself that way, and I'm really thinking about, this year too, ordering the meal from a local catering store or service versus having to cook it all. I'm just looking for the simplicity so that I don't get fatigued and I can spend more time with my family. So, thinking about what can you do from a simplicity perspective, which gets me to number three. The third lesson that I've learned is saying no. You can't do everything and be everywhere when your plate is full. You can't expect your loved one to do everything and be everywhere when they're sick or injured. And so Thanksgiving really woke me up to that and saying I'm sorry I couldn't host this year. I love you kids, but you know that the best thing for you to do is go ahead and go to your other family and enjoy them a bit more, and it really worked out for all of our kiddos and I mean I still had the text and the calls and stuff like that, and so I was able to go ahead and do that. From that perspective, setting healthy boundaries and realistic boundaries is key to sustaining your energy, your loved one's health and enjoying it. It may be limiting time and visits. It may be choosing one place to visit versus three. It may be watching the Christmas Eve Mass on TV versus going into a packed service, like Dennis and I did when he was going through a stem cell transplant. It may be asking siblings or family members to take your loved one to their home for their celebration and saying you know what? I'm gonna stay back and take this time to myself and you have the special time with them. Whatever it would be, it's accepting Christmas charities and donations. This year that might be. One of the big things happening in our community is to adopt an elder, which I think is just a wonderful idea. The elders submit their application and then people go ahead and do that, or a giving tree, or you accept a charitable donation, like a Christmas meal, whatever it would be. Your other people are asking what they can do and so you want to go ahead and just be open to it and accepting. It feels hard, but on the long run you're giving the gift of giving to the charity or the person and you're accepting by receiving that gift. So number four is letting go of yours or those high expectations similar to what I said with simplicity. Who says that the holiday has to look like the movies or the way social media posts it, or how it was in the past? What I've learned is to embrace the small things. One of the best memories that I had was driving around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights. It was so fun, my husband and I. He liked hot cocoa, I liked my coffee. We both put a cookie or two in a Christmas bin in our middle of the car and we drove around and we looked at Christmas lights. We have a local Facebook group and they posted like the top 10 best places to go, and so we mapped out our route and we drove around and we just parked in front and looked at it and we drove to the next. One of the other things that I've enjoyed with my mom is they had this door decorating contest in their apartment, which was really fun, so we got to go ahead and plan out what she wanted on her door. One year we did a Christmas and we did these Christmas lights with the battery lights. One year we did a big snowman. But we would plan this for weeks and weeks and then we would decorate the door, and then you had to decorate it by a certain time and then there was judges that would go around and they would award ribbons to the top three, and so that was really cool, and then my mom and I then would walk around and look at it, but we added a little bit to it. I said to my mom well, let's take post-it notes, and I found some Christmas stickers, and what we did is we went around to everybody's door and we put a little note by their door decorating and said we enjoyed your decorations, we love this, and we just she put XO Jan on it and it wasn't expected, because you already voted on it. But she went ahead and everybody put effort into the door so they needed like a little appreciation to it and so we had so much fun. We spent an entire Sunday afternoon looking at the different doors and then we would take a break because there's three floors and we just enjoyed that piece and we loved, you know, looking at everybody's pieces, but it was something simple like that. The biggest and most important lesson I've learned is embracing the present. The present Christmas or holiday or whatever your religion is you embrace it and you can even start new traditions. When you are in a challenging season, you can't always do the same thing year after year after year. It's like fitting a square peg into a round hole. You can't try and try. Or you can try and try to fit that square peg into that round hole, but it's not going to work. You're going to actually try. You're going to actually have to go ahead and grind it down and make it, make it round. So when you're thinking about embracing the present holiday season, think about quality over quantity. With my mom, it was what she did during the holidays, because she was really. She wanted to have special time with each of the family members. She would go ahead and say I'm going to just invite one family over each night or every other night, and she said I'm going to put out some cookies and some snacks and then I'm going to give them their gifts. And it was perfect because it was just an hour or two and she could go ahead and sit down with each family. It may be quiet time versus a big party for your loved one, because the stimulus may be too much and maybe that quiet time is watching. It's a wonderful life, or it's going ahead and just having some hot cocoa and cookies. It may be knowing that there's going to be carolers at a certain place and you said we're going to go ahead and listen to the carolers this year and it's only going to take us about 30 minutes. We're going to go listen and we're going to come home, and that might be just enough for you. And one of my favorites this is just a silly one, but one of my favorite holidays with my mom is because after she lost dad, she didn't have that special time, because Christmas Eve night was hard, because she would spend it with dad or Christmas morning she was missing dad and so I said to her. I said, well, I'm going to go ahead and spend an hour with you on Christmas Eve. Then I'm going to go back and spend the rest of the night with Dennis. And I went and bought these. I don't even remember what they were, but they were like they were holiday scented facials, like candy canes or whatever. And I went over there and we found some some corny Christmas movies and I said to mom I'm like, put your Christmas jammies on, because I'm going to come over and my Christmas jammies and I have a special treat for you. And so we put on the Christmas, we put on Christmas facials and we watched some Christmas movies. But we decided, you know what? We're going to dance to Christmas music while our facials dry. And it was so fun. It was only an hour, but that was something that we now have together that nobody really knows about until now. I just shared it with you. But what can you do to embrace those? Because she was feeling so sad, so melancholy. I was missing dad, I was worried about my spouse and I told Dennis what I was doing and he's like by all means, go do that for an hour and then we can come back and we can kind of do our own thing that evening and I came back in such a better spirit. So those are my five. So again, the five are it's okay to feel what you feel. Number two is simplicity. Number three is saying no and being okay with it or accepting help. Number four is letting go of those high expectations. And then number five is just embracing the present and you're going to find that you're going to start some new traditions. So, as I am, this podcast episode, I just want you to know that you are not alone when it comes to those holiday feelings as a caregiver, that added stress as a caregiver, those extra challenges as a caregiver during this holiday season. Just know that you can rewrite the season. Just know that it's okay If you just do your very minimum, you can choose what works best for you and your loved one. But one thing that you have to do during this holiday season and yes, this is Kathy, the caregiver coach, speaking to you is give your gift. Give yourself the gift of self love and grace during this time. It's the best gift you can receive and, most importantly, the best gift that you can that you deserve. So until we meet next week, my friend, take care and I hope that you found this podcast helpful today. We'll talk to you again next week. My friend Bye for now.

Navigating the Holidays as a Caregiver
Embracing the Present