“Holidays bring a lot of stresses,” said Anne Oglesby, Family Caregiver Resource Specialist for the Lumber River Council of Governments. “If you’re thinking about a Mom and Dad over 60, they’ve been the gathering point all these years and now one person is ill and the caregiver is pretty well worn out with the caregiving aspect. Sometimes being able to celebrate the traditions — there’s so much they have to accomplish — it can be very difficult.”
Through the Lumber River Council of Governments, the Family Caregiver Support Programs in Richmond and surrounding counties funds programs to provide information, help caregivers access services, create support groups, counseling and caregiver training, respite services, and supplemental services.
Oglesby said many families are set in their holiday traditions, but when a loved one is ill everyone needs to be open to change. But the key is to simplify — dinners should be made simpler by having friends and family pitch in with the cooking, and paper or plastic plates and glasses and cutlery should be used to cut down on cleanup, etc. Just because a family is used to doing something one way, doesn’t mean that’s the only way they can do it and still have a happy holiday.
Oglesby said the holidays can be especially difficult for children of caregivers who are coming home.
“It teaches them sometimes that life brings changes and you have to accept you can’t do things as you have in the past and make new traditions or meet at someone else’s house, these are things that you’ve come to expect and it’s hard for a person in the caregiving role to see those changes happen, too,” Oglesby said.
Oglesby said she had a caregiver once who was caring for her bed-ridden husband and when her children came home for Christmas they were excited about the holidays, but spent most of their time out of the house visiting friends they hadn’t seen since high school.
“She said she felt like she was running a hotel and was exhausted, and no one seemed to see what she was going through,” Oglesby said. “So they had a family meeting and she told them ‘you can’t just come here and not help. There was a time where that was what I expected you to do, but you can’t do that anymore,’ and they ended up volunteering to cook, run errands, stay and help with their Dad so the mom could get out for a while. It was extremely different after meeting with her kids.”
Oglesby said it’s important for caregivers to speak with their children and relatives about ways they can help, in advance, so they’re not surprised when they come home. She said this can be the perfect opportunity for families to have advanced directives, and start a planning process because you are noting that things are changing.
“They may not be able to help at home, but they need to think about how can they help from afar, like hiring someone to come in and help, mow the grass, etc., and again, it’s something parents don’t turn to their children in our culture and say ‘I can’t do this anymore, can you help me,’ they still feel like they should be looking after their children. It’s really opening people’s eyes sometimes as to how life is changing.”
And for caregivers, Oglesby said it’s important they ask for specific things when someone offers to help, otherwise they’ll never get any because no one really knows what to do for those in that position.
Duke University’s Family Support Program stressed the importance of giving visitors a head’s up before they head home for the holidays. Let them know the condition of your loved one so there aren’t any surprises. Let them know if you want them to bring food, if there are certain things they shouldn’t ask about etc., when interacting with your loved one and most importantly, let them know their coming for the holidays will be a boost for you and for your loved one, that things have changed, but the interaction with friends and family is still of vital importance.
The Duke program also encourages keeping holiday visits short so as to avoid any stress on the caregiver or care recipient.
And for those who are going home for the holidays and are wondering what to get the caregiver, here are a few tips: A few hours of respite time so they can get out and do something they need or want to do. Help decorate the caregiver’s home, help address envelopes for holiday cards, offer comic relief in the form of tickets to a local comedy club, a funny movie or audio book and help arrange for respite care so they can go out and take advantage of the gift. Another idea is to create a monthly calendar with 12 different family photos or just send them a card of appreciation, bouquet of flowers, bowl of fruit, cookies, anything to just let them know you care and are grateful for what they’re doing for your family.
The holidays are tough on everyone, but to someone who’s used to being able to take care of everything, being in a caregiver situation can be a tough one, so any little thing friends and family can do to help, will be much appreciated.
For more information on caregivers and the holidays, visit thefamilycaregiver.org.
Staff writer Eren Tataragasi can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 19 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.