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There you are—stuck in the house caring for your loved one. You may have not yet figured out how to set boundaries and how to make time for yourself, but that will come. Read my October blog "Boundaries" to learn how to establish and maintain boundaries. Be patient with yourself. You will figure it out...or you will succumb to the physical, emotional and spiritual demands of being a care partner.

For most happy relationship couples, finding oneself in a care partner role is often a labor of love. For others, however, it can be obligatory or at the very least, a mere fulfillment of your marriage vows in "sickness and in health.”  No matter how or why you find yourself in the role, no matter how fulfilling or isolating that role may be, once you've assumed it, it's virtually impossible to walk away from it.

And now it's holiday time, and you're faced with a new etiquette of tradition, a new melody of favorite customs, and a new level of wellness and function that has to blend into the norm. How do you create a new norm when a loved one is very ill...and unable to participate in the status quo?

When a loved one becomes sick, it affects the whole family and social circle. Everyone has to make sacrifices in order to accommodate the needs of the sick family member. While it is true that the ailing patient naturally becomes the priority, it is essential for every family member to identify their own needs and make sure that they're met so that everyone can maintain their own wellness and wholeness, especially during the usual stressors associated with holiday time.

It's hard to make any plans very far in advance when you're responsible for the care of a very sick family member. The patient's level of wellness or function can change from day to day, even hour by hour. However, that is no reason for the care partner to stop living, or to stop making plans...or to stop participating in the celebration of the holidays. The reality is, however, that you might have to alter the traditional way in which you and your circle of significant others celebrates the holidays to accommodate the needs of the weak or ailing individual. The normal noise and tumult of social gatherings may be intolerable. The smell of holiday cooking may cause nausea. The prospect of socializing may seem overwhelming.

So how can you put the Joy back in Oy?! There are many simple things you can do to recognize your holiday season and acknowledge its importance to your physical and spiritual health and well-being, as well as to the well-being of the person you are caring for

  • Decorate your home with familiar holiday decorations. If you don't have the physical or emotional energy to do it yourself, invite your children or grandchildren, or neighbors with their children to help and enjoy some hot chocolate and cookies. Who wouldn't want to participate in such a joyous activity?! Make a game of whispering so as not to disturb your loved one.
  • Fill your house with favorite holiday music at a low volume. If the noise disturbs your ailing loved one, give him or her a pair of ear plugs to drown out the noise or better yet, download your favorite holiday music onto your smartphone and wear earphones and blast the music to your heart's content. Then tap your feet. Shake your booty! And dance, dance, dance! It will stimulate you and get your blood moving. Music is joyful. If you don't know how to download music, ask any teen to help you!
  • Call your local house of worship and ask if there are any adult or teen volunteers who could participate with you in making the holiday a bit special. Home visits, caroling, sending cards, decorating, meals/snacks, phone calls, etc., can contribute to making the holiday season more joyful for you and your patient.
  • No energy for preparing a meal? Ask a few close family members or friends over for an informal holiday potluck meal. Invite each person to bring their favorite holiday food. Use a disposable tablecloth, plates, cups and silverware to make cleanup easy. No need to make excuses to your guests. People who care will understand. If there are no appropriate folks to invite over for a meal, throw a chicken, ham or small turkey in a slow-cooking crockpot with some potatoes and fresh root vegetables, and you'll have a delicious holiday meal with no fuss and minimal cleanup. Boil some fresh cranberries on the stovetop with some sugar, and you'll have fresh cranberry sauce to complement the meal. Instant or ready-made chocolate pudding with ready-made whipped cream makes for an easy and delicious dessert.
  • Make decorating your home for the holidays an easy activity. If dragging out the stored-away favorite holiday items is too much of a chore for you, don't do it. Or invite other family members, friends or neighbors over for a holiday decorating party. Serve some hot chocolate and cookies, and you've created a wonderful memory for everyone involved.
  • Don't worry about purchasing a live Christmas tree this year, unless some caring and generous person donates one for the cause. Perhaps you have a large green indoor plant that you can use as a substitute tree. If not, pick a blank wall in your home.  Tape some string or ribbon to the wall in the shape of a large triangle. This will be your tree this year. "Decorate it" by taping holiday cards you receive within the borders of the string or ribbon.
  • Don't have the energy to send out individual holiday cards this year? Write a few words or a short poem on a piece of paper, draw a picture and/or add some holiday stickers. Make color photocopies of it to send to each one of your favorite card recipients. You don't even need to put your homemade card into an envelope. Just fold it over, tape it shut, address and stamp it, and you're good to go. Or check out some online email card sites such as Blue Mountain (www.bluemountaincards.com) and send out e-cards this year. Given the circumstances, no one will mind. In fact, given the circumstances, you can rest assured no one will even expect a card from you this year. Send a note or card to the loved one you're caring for each day leading up to your holiday.
  • Make some popcorn and watch a favorite movie, alone, with your loved one or with an invited guest(s).
  • Skype with friends and family to exchange holiday greetings. It's free! Facetime on your iPhone for the same purpose. Don't know how to do this? Ask any teen!
  • Ask a trusted family member or friend to give you some respite, and go have some fun for an hour or two. Pamper yourself with a haircut, massage, manicure or go to the movies. Hang out at Barnes & Noble, reading a favorite book while sipping a favorite beverage at their coffee shop. Visit with someone who makes you feel good about yourself and who brings you joy.
  • Check the Internet for free holiday activities to do locally.
  • Walk over to a playground and watch children play. Or just walk outside your home for a few minutes to take in mother nature's beauty. Can't get outside, open the window and enjoy the fresh air? Look at the stars at night. Watch a sunrise or sunset. View a full moon.
  • Call family or friends whom you haven't spoken to in a long time if you have the energy. It's a great reason for the season.
  • Read that book or magazine you've been wanting to read.
  • Relax in a hot bubble bath. Darken the room, light some candles. Listen to relaxing music.
  • Want to get funky? Change the color of your hair with a temporary hair color. Wear a funky hat. Wear colors that don't match.
  • Most importantly, figure out how to put the Joy back in Oy! so you can enjoy your holiday season.

May this day bring you all the things that make you smile,

Lorrie Klemons, RN, MSN
Care Partner Advocate, Patient Power
Guest Contributor, Patient Action
Educator/Advocate/Poetess/Speaker

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