Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Choices...

For exhausted family caregivers and over extended helping professionals, the holidays can feel like adding a 100 pound pack to the running of a marathon. The season of giving becomes one more burden to shoulder rather than the warm, peaceful celebration we all dream about.  If trying to maintain family obligations and holiday traditions is getting you down, try these three suggestions made by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staedheli in their popular book, Unplug the Christmas Machine.

1.  Take stock.  Ask yourself why you feel more wrung out and exhausted during the Christmas season.  Are you trying to see too many people?  Are you working extra shifts to pay for bigger gifts and better trimmings? (Is it worth it?)  Are you trying to spend time with people who don't understand your current situation or with those who are conflictual or badly behaved? Are you expecting yourself to carry on traditions that no longer fit for you and your family?  Or does a busy, crowded holiday just not fit with your values?  Once you have identified the sources of your exhaustion, you can start to do something about them.

2.  Look for practical solutions, even if it means breaking traditions.  When we see the causes of our seasonal tiredness, we can usually see very quickly what we would like to change.  We realize that once enjoyable traditions no longer fit our changed circumstances.

3.  Communicate your wishes to your family and friends.  If at all possible, talk to family members well ahead of time about any major changes and realize that it may take some people longer than others to get used to the fact that Christmas won't stay the same forever.  Don't try to make all your changes at the same time (-unless illness or injury forces your hand).  Planting a seed now can bear fruit for next year.  Most importantly, take the time to explain your feelings and ideas thoroughily and calmly, without blaming others or becoming defensive.  And remember that every change represents a loss so you will need the opportunity to grieve before moving on.

I have always loved Christmas and its traditions and when my husband became ill, I was loathe to give up any one of them.  I worked hard to deep the holidays unchanged not realizing that a change could be a wonderful gift.   The fourth year of his illness, we were forced to realize that we could no longer spend the night before Christmas in the company of loved ones at Midnight Mass.   We grieved in anticipation of our lonely Christmas Eve then made a conscious effort to "light a candle rather than cursing the darkness" and planned our own quiet service at home   It was one of the most beautiful Christmas eves I've ever spent.  Accompanied by one dear friend, we sat around a livingroom table in the soft candlelight and the glow of the Christmas tree listening to the gentle strains of carols as my husband celebrated a simple communion service . I remember the reflection of candles in the 100 year old chalice of an unknown Army chaplain, the simple and familiar prayers and the feelings of deep peace and intimacy.  If we hadn't broken with tradition, we would never have known the gift of that gracious Christmas Eve. 

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