The holidays – Thanksgiving Day, Hanukkah, Christmas Eve and Day, Kwanzaa, New Years Day, and all other religious and cultural rituals typically practiced in these coming weeks – can be both heartbreaking and heartwarming for families navigating extended illnesses. Heartbreak is acute for the families experiencing loss of their family member before the family member is actually gone. Specifically, I’m thinking of the effects of dementia during this special time of year. Often, the family member living with dementia shows apathy or disconnection from the special day(s). S/he no longer occupies the “usual” role of host or hostess, social organizer, life of the party, entertainer, homemaker, political debater. S/he may have an aversion or difficulty sitting down at the dining table for the special meal(s). S/he likely didn’t remember or care to write the annual holiday cards to friends and family. S/he has become unaware of social norms including giving and receiving. These are losses that are grieved by all in the family. However, heartwarming moments are still accessible with this family member who lives daily with an awareness of who is gentle and kind, who is loving towards them. The family member living with dementia will never lose the ability to love and laugh. As we focus on the kernel of truth that loving moments is what the spirit of the holidays offers, we are able to savor the moments of joy and love shared with our family member when we are present with them.
Warm wishes for many loving moments this holiday season,