Caregivers in Search of Christmas Spirit

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by Ray Burow |

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“I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month.” —Harlan Miller

For many people, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. The hustle and bustle of shopping for the perfect present, the ringing of silver bells, and carols on the way to grandma’s house are images that kindle Christmas spirit.

For some caregivers, there’s not enough kindling in a pine forest to bring Christmas back. Sadness replaces the spirit of goodwill that should accompany the holidays, and the season, as it turns out, is less than wonderful. In their minds, sketches of past Christmases drive out the Norman Rockwell images of happy, peaceful families gathering about the tree or around a table filled with delights only consumed at Christmas.

Flashes of past Christmases keep caregivers reeling between nostalgia and loss. Celebrating is like salt in the wound. A reminder that a loved one lost to disease won’t be gathering this year. The loss is equally palpable for caregivers of people who are physically present but prevented by dementia from really being there.

If only Miller’s wish would come true by some Christmas miracle. Pulling a transformative jar of Christmas spirit from a high shelf, we’d sprinkle it around, a heavy dose for good measure.

There’s no magic potion

Christmas spirit can’t be siphoned into canning jars during happier times to open later. We don’t choose when to be sad. Sad times are chosen for us. Tears and sadness are part of life, just as much as happiness. They’re not nearly as fun, but sometimes they’re necessary.

People mourn for many reasons, but primarily we mourn because we love. Love is a gift, and loss can’t take it away. However, Alzheimer’s may affect love’s response. For example, love may be ill-characterized, or the person with the disease may define it. Love never fails, but the loss of responsive love grieves the hearts of caregivers, especially at Christmas. Loss wreaks havoc with our Christmas spirit.

The battle for Christmas spirit

Everyone around you seems to be in a joyful Christmas mood, looking forward to the holidays. The world continues to spin, while you feel stuck in place. You shop, decorate, and bake without the joy you had before caregiving and loss. Maybe you’ve even given up on the joys of Christmas.

Sadness seems to increase with the intensity of other people’s joy. You may not achieve the level of Christmas spirit you once had, but it is worth trying to regain. Falling into depression isn’t an option. If you’re already there, know there’s a way out. I advise you to seek professional help.

Moving forward

It might seem impossible, but you can move forward and gain a better outlook at Christmas and the rest of the year. If you’re depressed, call your physician. Don’t sugarcoat your experiences. Be truthful about your thought process, and come clean about harmful thoughts if you’ve had them.

During the holidays, your physician may not be available for a consultation, but help is still available. Professionals are available to speak with you 24/7 via the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It’s confidential, free, and a great resource for finding the right help. Choose not to listen to the voice of despair and step into hope. You’re certainly worth the call. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

You may not be suicidal, but a cloud of sadness may cover you. There’s hope for you, too.

It’s OK to feel

Of course, celebrations are different. Your situation is different. You may have lost your loved one, or you may be in the throes of caregiving for someone who rarely, if ever, remembers you. Devastatingly, your shared memories are no longer shared. But avoiding your feelings won’t drive the sadness away.

Don’t stuff the memories down to avoid feelings of sadness. A happy glimpse back can be healing. Embrace memories. Enjoy snatches of images of happier times with your loved one. Steal a little Christmas spirit from Christmases past.

Don’t fake how you feel

Talk with a friend, spouse, or sibling about your sadness. Sometimes just getting it out can help.

Speak with a counselor, or if you’re a person of faith, talk to a pastor about your sadness. It’s nothing to be ashamed about, and they are equipped to help.

Remembering the true meaning of Christmas while going about your regular holiday routine could stir feelings of Christmas. You might just stumble into the spirit of Christmas.


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s Disease.


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