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When Christmas at Mom’s Isn’t the Same Anymore

For many years at the Buxton house, Christmas Eve was a time for gathering the family together and the first of several holiday celebrations. The grandchildren would come over and open presents from Grandma and Grandpa. Bonnie Buxton, the family’s grandma, would always prepare a wholesome meal that everyone anticipated. Christmas was a time of year everyone loved, indulging in Grandma's pulled pork and other traditional mid-Western foods. The holidays were an essential part of maintaining a united family, especially since the Buxton's didn't have much family nearby.

However, at the age of 70, Bonnie began losing her eyesight. Worse, she was eventually diagnosed with dementia. At this time, Jo, Bonnie’s daughter, started noticing growing anxiety in her mother caused by the task of preparing Christmas Eve dinner. Jo began seeing an increasingly frustrated Bonnie, a messy kitchen and food that was not made quite right. Bonnie had always been a great cook and prided herself on caring for her family. But Jo could see that preparing for the celebration was taking a toll on Bonnie. 

For example, one of Bonnie’s favorite things to make at Christmas time was a chocolate sheet cake. One year, she attempted to make the cake, but due to her failing vision, she was not able to put the ingredients together correctly. Her husband tried to help, relying on his wife’s memory of the recipe. But, he had never cooked before. When Jo arrived that evening, she couldn’t believe the disaster in the kitchen. The cake was inedible and she was forced to throw the whole thing in the trash. The experience was so frustrating that the cake wasn’t attempted again.

After this incident, Jo decided to intervene. The family could no longer put pressure on Bonnie to be in charge of Christmas Eve dinner. So, the following year on the way to the Buxton house, Jo picked up a fried chicken meal for everyone to eat. At first, Bonnie felt offended by this change; she wanted to keep making her traditional Christmas favorites. The rest of the family was a little disappointed with the chicken dinner, instead of the fantastic holiday meals they had had in the past. But, the family realized the holiday tradition was too much, and they were forced to adjust to a new tradition.

For a few years, the family continued to go to the Buxton house on Christmas eve, but eventually, even that became too much. Bonnie's condition had worsened, and she became unable to organize the house in preparation for the family's arrival. The celebration was eventually moved to Christmas afternoon at Jo's home. Bonnie and her husband were still able to participate in the festivities and would always arrive bearing gifts for the grandchildren. Jo says she felt like the torch was being passed on to her, the next generation. She expected this to happen at some point as part of having her own family. She mentioned that the transition period was difficult for the whole family, notably Bonnie, who wanted to continue to host her family at her own house.

Many Families Can Relate

The Buxton family’s story is not unique. Many families must create new traditions around the holidays due to the evolving needs of aging loved ones. As with many families, it is difficult to identify the gradual reduction in abilities that may occur. Adult children may not be able to spend much time with their aging parents, and thus may not notice anything has changed before visiting from out of town. Sometimes, these changes can also be overlooked. After all, it's easier to assume Mom or Dad is OK; however, that's probably not in your parent's best interest.

In Bonnie’s situation, the inability to make a dish she had made for years, was a significant sign that traditions needed to change. Each situation is different, and sometimes it can be difficult for families to identify when it is time for a change. In general, a messy home, poor hygiene, forgetfulness, and a decline in physical abilities are all signs that it might be time to pass the holiday torch. 

Changing Traditions Could Be a Sign

The reality is that changing traditions can be a sign that your elderly loved one needs additional help at home. The holidays are an excellent time for families to talk about Mom or Dad. Planning before the need arises, can save you and your family from panic, guilt, and unneeded stress.

Family consensus is an essential piece of the puzzle. Deciding who will take on caregiving responsibilities or if a professional caregiver is necessary, it is important to discuss before the situation becomes overly stressful or dangerous for your family.

The change in holiday traditions is just one sign your loved one might need more help. There are many other signs to look for that are outlined here. Although changing holiday traditions can be difficult for everyone at first, having a plan for your loved one in place can reduce stress and anxiety. Learn more about the importance of having a plan for Mom or Dad by clicking here.

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