Ten Ways to Reduce Stress in a Caregiver’s Christmas.

Many caregivers, especially spousal caregivers, are the person who has always hosted the family dinner.  An exhausting undertaking when everyone is well, rested and fully functioning, the mere thought of the gathering can be enough to reduce a caregiver to tears.

You might think the family involved would make other arrangements.  But when they consider the difficulty of moving the person with health issues to any other locale, away from the comfort of their bed, multiple medications and specially equipped rooms, they probably realize this is not in anyone’s best interest.  So the default decision is to impose on the caregiver, in order to have what may be the last Christmas with this loved one.

As a caregiver, you have a responsibility to yourself, the patient, and your family and friends to ensure that this holiday event is enjoyable for everyone.  Here are ten tips to help you do so with minimal stress.

  1. DELEGATE:  Optionally, this could be numbers 1 through 9.  Choose one item of the dinner that you wouldn’t mind being responsible for and one thing only, and stick to it.  If no-one else volunteers to bring anything, they will all be eating turkey or cheese straws or whatever your one thing is.  Be very clear about this when talking to others.

  2. MENU:  Plan the menu with those who will be attending and make them responsible for every item except the one thing you have chosen to contribute.

  3. GUESTS: Limit the attendees.  If you know that cousin Jane will complain about the food and bring three bags of potato chips as her food contribution: well who really needs it?  This is also probably not the time to introduce new people to the family scene.

  4. VOLUNTEERS: Plan to have at least one person to come and decorate, and set the table the day before.  Worst case scenario, if the person doesn’t show up?  Forget the decorations.  Light a few candles, have guests grab plates and cutlery from the kitchen.

  5. VOLUNTEERS: Choose a capable friend or family member to come early.  Have them check the bathrooms for cleanliness, towels and tissue.  Ask them to greet people and co-ordinate food and drink as it arrives.  This will free you up to attend to yours and your loved one’s needs in the time immediately preceding dinner.

  6. VOLUNTEERS: Organize the clean up crew (previously mentioned volunteers should be excluded) who will load the dishwasher, put leftovers away, and/or send food home with the bringer.

  7. YOU DECIDE: If at the end of the day, there is insufficient help to make the day do-able in your estimation, invite people to come for coffee and drinks only.  Buy a few dozen cookies and tarts, or if you prefer, fruits like grapes and some select cheeses.  Then ask people over for a specific day and time: (Saturday, Dec.24th, 1-3 p.m.)

  8. ACCESS:  Make sure the patient/spouse has a chance to see everyone, however briefly.  Be aware of when they need a rest or when the conversation is too taxing.

  9. APPRECIATION:  Even though you will feel tired when all of this over, you will feel renewed by the spirit of co-operation and giving that has made this Christmas special.  Thank everyone for helping to make the dinner a joyful success.

  10. LET IT BE: The key to a perfect day is this: whatever happens is meant to be.  Relax into the day.  Know that whatever doesn’t get done won’t matter.  Your house isn’t immaculate?  No-one expects it to be.  You look tired and disheveled?  People know how challenging your journey is.  What they want is to connect with you in a meaningful way, and by letting them participate in the planning and the cooking, you are giving them a marvellous opportunity to express the Christmas Spirit.  Relax.  It’s a NO GUILT DAY.

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