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When I was growing up, my childhood home used to look like a winter wonderland during the holiday season. Mom pulled out all the stops and Dad was the Head Elf. He was given the duty of covering the doors, banisters and fireplace with wreaths, garlands and twinkly lights. The tree was tall and splendid, shining with sparkling ornaments, strung with big coloured bulbs.
The fire was burning and the stockings that hung were stuffed with odd mysterious shapes that kept us guessing up until Christmas morning. Saturdays were for baking tons of cookies loaded with chocolate, nuts and butter, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and cut and pushed into stars, moons and candy canes.
Looking back I will never know how they managed it year after year with limited budgets and time. Yet they did it again and again, passing down a tradition of making seasonal holidays a very big, magical deal.
As my parents aged, and it all became too much for them, my sister took over the elf responsibilities and decked the halls with her own personal flair. She outdid herself to duplicate my mom’s holiday magic.
It was during one of these holidays that we were hit with the heart-breaking reality that our parents could no longer function in their lives without help and assistance. They would no longer be able to travel to my sister’s home in Florida from the East Coast where they lived in a senior housing apartment. Since I too lived on the East Coast, I signed up for the caregiver and the holiday magic-making positions immediately.
I stumbled and fell – both as caregiver, and as designated holiday elf. I wanted so badly to make everything OK and fix it all. However, as all caregivers know, the job can be overwhelming, exhausting and frightening all at once. Even with my type A personality and history of controlling everything I touch, caregiving was daunting. I was so exhausted and stressed and wondered how I could ever make the holidays sparkle.
I was nervous just thinking about how to get through them.
Since the holidays have a reputation to be filled with miracles, I prayed for one. I asked for help to guide me. What could I do to pick up my chin and make a joyful time for us all when I felt lost, sad and so very, very tired?
My miracle came in the form of support from family, friends and other caregivers. I shared my worry that things had changed so much that we would never be able to have happy holidays again. I cried with exhaustion and sadness and self-blame.
I was met with love and kindness, especially from fellow caregiver warriors who encouraged me – listing all the things I was handling with grace and insisting that I take a break from beating myself up. Caregiving is all about the intention to keep those we care for safe and comfortable, and the holidays are about love, joy and gratitude, not tinsel and lights.
The real meaning of the holidays was about love.
I got the message. We can’t relive the past but we can hold fond mementoes of it. We can’t guarantee happiness but we can hold on to it tightly when we experience it. We can look up and see the moments that are precious and celebrate those moments with gratitude and be present for them. We can just show up.
The holidays that first year and for the years after were less about the decorations and more about the love we had for each other. When I did hang decorations, I did it with Mom and Dad directing me and I honestly believe they actually enjoyed being involved in my humble attempts. We laughed and cried.
It’s not so much how big the things we do are, but the intention with which we do them that has the lasting effect. Love and appreciation are louder and deeper and stay with us the longest. We don’t remember what things look like, we remember how we feel.
I know I felt happier and more grateful during those holidays I cared for my parents than all the others put together. Just the pure appreciation of being with each other was all the magic I needed. I know in my heart they felt the same.
If you are tired and scared, or worried and overwhelmed, remember you are not alone and you deserve to pause and breathe and soak up the love this holiday season. That’s where the magic is.
I wish you and your families the happiest of holidays. May the magic be with you forever.