The house is still a mess after the guests are long gone. There wasn't energy for the holiday from the beginning of the plan. Besides, nothing went according to plan. But you still have to be up at odd hours of the night to help with medications and bathroom needs. Your loved one needs you so you have to keep on keeping on when you feel like a Mack truck hit you. It's only the beginning of all the holiday hoopla and thinking about putting up Christmas decorations and sending out greeting cards makes you want to crawl under the covers to hide. Who cares for the caregiver? The holiday season is especially hard for anyone who cares for someone who has a serious chronic illness or the elderly.
I have been a caregiver for three different people, currently It is easy to become totally burned out. I've learned a few things along the way, and still learn new things. But one thing stands out in all three instances, if you love your loved one, take care of yourself so you can take care of them well. There is hope and help for juggling holiday happenings with the day-to-day caring for someone you love.
It's okay to take a break. You are operating at higher than normal stress levels. It's important to be able to at least take small breaks away so you can take care of other things you need to do, to be able to calm down if you've been grumpy with your loved one, and to reduce resentment. Find someone who can help for an hour or two once or twice a week. There may be people in your church who can help you. There may also be services in your area who can help with some of the tasks while you run errands.
It's okay if the house doesn't look perfect. Medical equipment takes up residence wherever your loved one spends the greatest amount of time. Stashing it in plastic drawers in a closet clearly marked or under the hospital bed can help clear the clutter. Dishes in the sink or laundry in the hamper is really not a big issue. If your loved one is doing well, they may be able to help put Christmas cards in an envelope or sort the medical supplies to put in the drawers. Whenever he or she can help in small ways, you both win.
It's okay to not be the hostess with the most-est. Just because you hosted Thanksgiving at your house doesn't mean you have to do that now. It may be a challenge taking your loved one out to holiday events, but it might be just what the doctor ordered. Plan ahead for outings making sure you have all the supplies you need and an exit plan for when the excitement is too much. If your loved one has to stay at home, try an Open House so people can drop by to see you both at various times instead of all at once. You can also do a virtual gathering. Set up FaceTime, Skype, or whatever works for everyone. Getting a meal from the local deli delivered can take the pain out of preparation, too.
It's okay to recruit helpers. Ask friends and family if they can help out with small tasks. They may not know what you need or how to help. Could someone take the trash out? Could someone else help set the table? Maybe your family would love to help set up the Christmas tree. There is only so much of your energy you can spend in a day, so spread out your network of helpers for the day.
It's okay to do some care giving for yourself. Caregivers usually let their own needs go unmet which leads to tremendous burnout. While you have someone helping with your loved one, go work out at the gym for an hour. Eat healthy foods to keep up your energy. Enjoy a walk or bike ride through the park. Go to the salon, whatever, but get some time away for an hour or two.
Not everyone will understand what you are going through. Cut yourself a bit of slack. Just because a friend or family member thinks you should be doing certain things doesn't mean you should. Ask yourself what is most important to accomplish in a week, month, or quarter. Set up a 1-2-3 system: 1- absolutely got to do, 2- very important but it can wait until the 1s are done, and 3- it would be nice, but the world won't end if it doesn't happen. Do regular planning this way to reduce your stress and focus your attention on what matters most. When you do encounter those know-it-all sorts of people, smile and keep doing what you and your loved one need. They just don't understand and you can't make them, so no worries!
You can enjoy holiday celebrations with the time you have left with your loved one.What a blessing that God called you to care for this person when they need it most. These days can be memorable and fun. May God bless you!