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When the Child Becomes the Parent – Part 3

Managing the Holidays

In March of 2013, my dad passed away.  My mom has done a remarkable job of finding her new normal since then including taking a trip to Peru in September of this year.  Unfortunately, the long plane rides and altitude caused her to have severe blood clots and she was hospitalized for four weeks and spent another two weeks in a rehab hospital.  We now have help for her several days a week and my family and I are also responsible for her care.  The impact on her health, both physical and mental, was significant and has significantly changed the family dynamics.  Up until September, my mom continued to live in her house, drive, cook, and remain active in her church.  She now requires assistance at home, can no longer drive, and is learning how to rely on others for help.

This Thanksgiving, instead of dinner at Mom’s house, we gathered at our ranch which is north of Houston.  It was the first time in over 60 years that she did not cook a turkey.  As I work fulltime, and assist in her care, we decided to keep things simple for this year’s celebration. We pared down the menu and made a few other changes to our celebration.  Being away from her home and the traditions that she established for Thanksgiving made her a bit anxious and made me realize there are a few things that I need to consider for the holidays for both of us so that we can all enjoy this season.

Keep it simple.  While there are so many wonderful traditions each family has, for the caregiver (s), it is added stress in an already stressful role.  Pick a few easy things to keep and focus on them.  Make one or two favorite dishes and invite others to bring the rest of the meal. Decorate the house with a few memorable items and don’t worry about the rest.  As long as you have a few key traditions that you maintain, let the rest go.

Have a role for the family member for whom you are the caregiver.  My daughter and I make cinnamon rolls each year for Christmas breakfast and as gifts.  My mom wanted to assist so we found a few things that she could do to help us. It made such a difference to her and gave her purpose.  Again, keep it simple so as not to overwhelm either of you.

Communicate often.  While visiting, my mom got anxious a few times since she was not in her home or in her normal her routine. She asked many times about the day, the time, the activities for the day, etc.  One thing to do is to write down the schedule for each day.  That way the patient has the information and can review it to reassure himself/herself about what is happening that day.

Bring the comforts of home.  My mom packed her things to come to my house and I chuckled to myself when I saw her unpack her suitcase.  There were several random items and I could not understand why she brought them.  But I then realized they were important as they made her comfortable.  Think about a child and a favorite toy or blanket that you had to pack for them when taking a trip.  The same is true for your parent. Remember to create a list for them so they are sure they have all that they need when traveling. This also helps for trips to the hospital.

Routine is important. My mom is a creature of habit. A cup of tea first thing in the morning with breakfast and a real newspaper is critical.  We ensured that she started each day at our house as she does at her house.  Keeping those little habits help to keep the patient (and you) happy.

Handle the difficult moments efficiently and let them go.  After two days, I could sense my mom’s level of anxiety rising which then made me a bit anxious as well. She wanted to go shopping which is the last thing I wanted to do so we did several things to distract her.  One of those included a dish of ice cream before dinner. Remember – you must pick your battles! 

It’s ok to have limits.  By Sunday morning, it was evident that my mom was ready to go home. While I was still ready to enjoy my last day of the Thanksgiving holiday, it was more important that she return to her normal routine.  It is important to remember that at her age, she needs the routine of her home and that she can only handle so much time away.  It was a good lesson for me.

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