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Holidays as Sad Caregiver Anniversaries

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The holidays have gone by in a great rush, but you may have noticed someone in your orbit who seems a bit down during these past days and beyond.  We have all heard somebody comment that New Year’s or Chanukah or Christmas are hard because that is when a mother or a father or other loved one died.  And it becomes a poignantly sad moment when that date on the calendar rolls around each year. 

It has been my experience that it does not even have to be a specific date that can bring a spouse who has lost their partner or a caregiver who has lost the individual for whom they cared down.  It is the memory of holidays with that person who is no longer here to share in festivities. This makes the time of year particularly hard.  And if it is the first Christmas or the first New Year’s or any other “first,” it can be all the more difficult.

Not everyone will be willing to share the sources of their holiday sadness with others, but you can be alert to some of the common signs:

1.    Sadness that just seems to settle in.  Everyone has the occasional bad day.  This sadness will be over an extended time, and you may notice the deep sighs as your loved one tries to break the hold that the reminder of loss can inflict.

2.    Fatigue that sleep does not cure. You may notice that your loved one who is mourning a loss may fall asleep easily, retire earlier or rise later than usual; yet they never seem to be refreshed. 

3.    Preoccupation when engaged in conversation. You might need to repeat yourself. You may notice that faraway look – as if they are lost in thought. They are.

4.    Forgetfulness or absent-mindedness. Again, it may be distraction about items on their list of things to do that fade into the background, because they are caught up in the sadness of their memories.

            The single best thing a friend can do for these seasonal lapses is to empathize.  You don’t need to be their analyst, but you can validate their feelings of sadness.  You can also ask about what in particular makes the holiday sad for them.  It can be helpful to ask about any special, positive memories or experiences they can recount of their lost loved one.  Recalling the positive is not intended to convey that they ought not be sad as much as to give the person an opportunity to balance the context within which they remember their loved one.

            Even good memories may not be enough to offset the blues.  If you find that this melancholy lingers well beyond the holidays that now are past, encourage your friend or loved one to seek some help.  Their primary care physician may be a starting point or even a clergy member if they belong to an organized religion.  Crying can sometimes get one’s sadness out and talking can do the same. It helps to lift the weight that some carry through the holidays.

      Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to ccbishop@creativecasemanagement.com.

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