Letting go of being in charge at Christmas

"I have never thought about that before. Every year I host; it's just what I do. I didn't necessarily think about doing it differently."

I was in a little gift shop on Fifth Street this weekend and as I am often noted for, was speaking out loud to no one in particular and said, “Wow, this holiday season has really snuck up on me this year.”

In a shocking turn of events, someone actually answered, “I wish I could get into a time machine and travel right into 2014 bypassing the holiday season altogether!”

Never one to turn down an interesting conversation (much to the chagrin of my family), I discovered a gentleman who was now in charge of Christmas this year.

His Dad and Mom (95 years and 90 years, respectively) had minor strokes in the past six months and his three children and six grandchildren were planning to spend their holidays in Comox.

He said, “I don’t mean to be the Grinch, but I finally got Mom and Dad the help they need and now I’m faced with the extra long to-do list, concerts and parties up the ying-yang and cooking for at least 12 of us!”

I pondered for a second and said, “Have you thought about asking one of your children to host Christmas this year? Maybe you could have everyone over for a coffee and a light brunch mid-morning rather than having to be responsible for supper?”

I could see the light go on.

He said, “I have never thought about that before. Every year I host; it’s just what I do. I didn’t necessarily think about doing it differently.”

I threw out a thought, “There’s nothing wrong with creating new traditions if it means everyone can still be together and you don’t run yourself into the ground. Why don’t you toss it around with your family?

“As for those concerts and parties, take into consideration your Mom’s and Dad’s physical stamina and cognitive abilities. You might want to limit the number of activities and the length of time they are included. The noise and confusion of a large family gathering or concerts can lead to irritability, undesired behaviour or exhaustion.”

By this time, we had left the store and were walking up the street.  My new friend, Michael, gave a guilty sigh of pleasure.

He said, “I feel bad but I’m just so glad to have a few minutes to myself not worrying about everyone else. Sometimes I stay at work longer so I can have a little solitude.”

I gave a little nod and said, “Isn’t it amazing how a little R&R goes a long way, even if you are working!  It must be hard to ask for help.

“I hope you make time for yourself in the coming month. The balance scale is always going to fluctuate between caring for your parents and looking after yourself, too.”

As we were going our separate ways, he smiled and said, “You sure seem to know a lot about of seniors’ issues and family caregivers.  Have you ever thought about writing a column?”

I smiled and laughed, “You never know, I just might!”

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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