Caregiving and Those Pesky Holidays Coming Up

Holidays are a time of expectations. Those expectations nearly always fall caregivers. Why? Because we make things happen. We take stuff off the plates of others. We care for everyone.

Reviewed by
Jill Johnson-Young

We are rapidly entering the holiday season- or as I see it the time for all the lights for every occasion. I currently have décor up for Halloween, and the blow-up Turkey goes up on November 2nd. On Halloween I will take marigolds to my local cemetery where my family members are buried. On November 1st I will place flowers and light candles on our family memorial table for All Saints Day. Then we are off to the races with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, and a handful of birthdays mixed in the season.

How’s that sound for relaxing observances?

I just spoke with someone and suggested that Costco has lovely Thanksgiving plates, and Halloween platters. Plus- all of you have Publix! (I miss Publix!).

This is such a time of expectations, isn’t it? We want to see the kids out in their costumes. We picture that “perfect” turkey on the platter, the side dishes steaming and aromatic, the pumpkin pie. (Okay, now I am hungry. Perhaps I should have written this after dinner). We can see that perfect tree or the quiet of the menorah and the family dinners. (Head’s up- Hanukkah is competing with Thanksgiving this year. Shop early!)

Those expectations nearly always fall on the caregiver types. Why? Because we make things happen. We take stuff off the plates of others. We caretake everyone! I get it- I used to be the one with the biggest house, and I hosted 30-50 people every holiday. I enjoyed much of it. But I was soooo tired afterward. And it cost a fortune. One time I tried to do some dishes as potluck and learned my lesson. My cousin’s now ex-girlfriend brought stuffing that was dry and laced with jalapeños. Someone else made homemade cranberries with orange peels and nuts. I loved it- but my crew, every single one of them, is of the opinion that cranberries are picked from the bogs in a can with lines around the jelly. (I made homemade years ago, and I learned my lesson.) And… nobody brought whip cream for the pumpkin pie. Total disaster, right?

That year I looked across the street and saw my beloved neighbor carrying in ten boxes of pizza to her family. They watched Netflix and played dominoes. They threw away the mess, including the paper tablecloth. Everyone relaxed. They were caregivers to a developmentally delayed adult sister who functions at about 18 months of age, and a mom who was ill for many years. When we lost her this July, I brought pizza.

That’s when we had a real sit down in our family. We made a list of options. Halloween was to be at home, and we would keep all the traditions- and add to them. Thanksgiving became a trip to the Colorado River casinos and reservations out. Our “leftovers” that night were squeeze cheese and crackers and popcorn. I thought I would cringe, and instead I relaxed. We had friends and family who also went- and we loved it. The next day we headed over the river to Arizona, to Oatman, a ghost town where donkeys wander through. The scrub is decorated along the road with handmade ornaments.  A new tradition was born. A special memory was made for a family member who died not four months later. We did not need a perfect turkey. In fact, one daughter had chicken and waffles, and I had cheese grits, not jalapeño stuffing.

I know many of you cannot travel. We could that year because the loved one I was caring for had died the year before. It was a break from many traditions and a reset. But you can make this season more fun and less work. If you need permission, here it is.

Less stress over “perfect” reduces muscle strain, headaches, lack of sleep, financial stress, planning stress, and coping stress. When you are caregiving you really never know how that week or day will go, and that adds to the stress. Focus instead on what part of the holidays they enjoyed or enjoy. Can you incorporate that? I hope that when I am being cared for there will be twinkle lights everywhere. I will not care what color or season. My own mom no longer wants a big tree, but was happy with a tiny one, and finding the Swedish Lutheran Church services, in Swedish, on my laptop. It brings back happy memories. (And it has forced me to learn some Swedish which is good for memory and brain retention).

This year I will not be able to partake in the holiday feasts because of medical stuff, so I am keeping it really simple. Honey Baked Ham will deliver the feast. A hired caregiver/friend will heat it up for those who will be there. And yes, there will be Costco paper plates, napkins, and bamboo cutlery. It will still allow happy memories for them, they will not miss me as much, and then they will be able to enjoy the day and skip doing the dishes and pretending that they enjoy washing them.

So here is my "It’s Almost ThanksChristmakkah season". How can you make it special, but not extra work while you are already so swamped? (Or should I say Evergladed?). As usual, I have some ideas.

  • Evaluate what matters, really matters about each of the days coming up. Focus on those small things.
  • Leave perfect outside the door. Locked in a box. Without a key.
  • Reduce the workload. Use the paper plates. Order in. Potluck (if you can trust your crew) (remember no jalapeños in the stuffing).
  • How about a soup potluck? You can put the crockpots or Instant Pots on the kitchen counter with a label for food allergies if needed. And paper bowls.
  • What about take out and a potluck dessert?
  • Put a serious cap on gifts. Caregiving is expensive. You know it. I know it. Others may not.
  • Make a family holiday tablecloth. Buy a tough looking cloth, and a bunch of fabric pens or Sharpies. Those no longer with you go in clouds in the center. Everyone else makes a hand outline and fills in the date and name. Be careful with washing. Stains don’t matter on an heirloom. Every year it comes out. Or make a paper chain with memories to use on the tree.
  • Reduce your load. Reduce your expectations. Those are the things that make caregivers sick, or worse. This is your holiday season too. Chex mix and cider go a long way. And they make the house smell wonderful.
  • And if you are in Miami, please have a Cuban sandwich and plantains for me- and flan. That’s a holiday all by itself.

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

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