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  • Ruth Rothbart-Mayer

Why Bah Humbug Still Has a Seat at the Holiday Table

Holidays cheer

Holidays bring out the best and worse in caregivers and people who have experienced a recent lost. The inclination may be to spend holidays in a dark room, chase people away with “bah humbug” or worse, refuse to have a part in the festivities.

We can’t be happy all the time but being present with family and friends can be more healing than ignoring the feelings that lurk beneath the surface. As hard as it may be, embracing traditions can, in the long run, be comforting as is finding a place to express the loss to help lighten the burden.

Prepare; accept that you might not feel cheerful. Talk to a good friend, family member or therapist – express yourself; what you fear, dread, are not looking forward to. Talk about what you like about the holidays, what your favorite parts are; who you’re looking forward to seeing.

Make something or do something special for your family member with dementia or another limiting illness. Something easy that everyone will recognize and appreciate. A favorite cookie or cake? A wreath? A hand-painted dreidl?

Sweeten the day with stories – share a few of your own and it will urge others to share their own memories.

Some years ago a man in my support group told us how he’d coped during his wife’s years of living with dementia. First, he met with his adult children for a meal in late October before the Celebration Season took off. He’d tell a story about their mother that he was certain they hadn’t heard and in turn his 3 kids told stories they’d WITHELD, knowing that told any earlier in their lives they would have been punished!

Stories in hand, bellies full and feeling more lighthearted, they divvied up responsibilities; from cleaning and preparing to chauffeuring and clean-up. While their mother (and wife) could no longer cook, they planned to take turns helping her with the things she still loved to do, like decorate the dining room side board with sprigs of autumn leaves or evergreen, help make colorful paper chains, and decorate cookies.

Some food was ordered, and each brought one dish. Since large groups no longer worked, Thanksgiving Day was immediate family only and over the week-end one of them would host the rest of the family without Mom who was entertained for the afternoon by an old friend. Our group member related though it didn’t always run smoothly, it didn’t matter because planning together helped unify the family and even if they hadn’t had an ill family member, working together gave them time to reflect on what was important.

Keep it simple. You don’t have to repeat “the way we’ve always done it.” Put music on, take breaks, take a walk, watch a fun movie or the football game together.

Bah humbug moments remind us of what we’ve lost but they can also be a guidepost to the future as you create and find new things to enjoy and celebrate.

Ruth Rothbart-Mayer, LCSW, C-ASWCM


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Individual Psychotherapy & Elder Care Coaching

14 Fairway Ave, West Orange, NJ 07052

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