How to cope when it’s Mum’s last Christmas
December 3, 2020
How do we handle special occasions when a loved one is unwell? It can be hard to know where to start… do we carry on as normal and pretend that everything is okay? Do we go all out to make it the best celebration ever, filled with memories, but running the risk that the ‘fun’ all starts to feel a little bit false?
If you know that it is likely to be your last Christmas with Mum, or another family member, this can bring up a whole lot of tricky and sometimes contrasting feelings – especially when it is a time of year that’s traditionally filled with magic and sparkle and happy endings, which can intensify our feelings for better or worse.
Talk about it
You can get things off on the right foot by acknowledging what is happening and having an open and honest discussion about it. What are everyone’s expectations? What are their concerns? What does your mum want to do, what is important to her? It might be that she wants to create some new traditions (uh, hello yule log and Roses instead of Christmas dinner?!), or scale back on the existing ones to have a quieter and less exhausting celebration that she can still take part in. Encourage her to share her thoughts and reassure her that if something doesn’t feel right, she doesn’t need to do it!
Keep it manageable
If there is too much pressure to create the perfect gathering, that can create the opposite effect to what is desired. The pressure to perform and co-ordinate every last thing perfectly may mean we miss out on the important moments with our loved ones, or it can even lead to fraying tempers and falling out – after all, does it really matter if the star on the tree is a bit wonky, or if the stuffing is a little bit… well… charred..?
When working out a plan, allow plenty of time to think about what is realistic and achievable and figure out who will be contributing what. Sharing responsibility not only decreases the stress levels, but helps everyone to feel included in whatever you decide to do. It’s unlikely we can ever really be prepared for this scenario and all the emotions it brings – after all, everyone reacts differently to difficult situations and we all have our own personal triggers – but planning can help take care of the basics so that we can be more flexible around anything else that arises.
Keep things simple but meaningful in order to avoid stress and unnecessary pressure.
Take care of yourself
Plan an escape route; if you start to feel upset, sad or anxious and would rather not show it in front of everyone, think ahead of ways that you can take a few moments to yourself, from offering to wash the dishes or put out the bins to walking off dinner or even popping for a lie down.
Grounding techniques and breathing exercises can be a great quick way to get back on track; if things do feel too much, take some time out to do a simple grounding exercise (look for five things you can see, four things you can feel/touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one positive observation about yourself) or a breathing exercise (breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4). These can help bring you back to the present, ready to face the afternoon board games that are guaranteed to descend into chaos…
Above all, be kind to yourself. Special occasions can be stressful at the best of times, let alone when experiencing a family health crisis. Making sure that you’re at the top of your game by eating well (OK so perhaps not the yule log and Roses for dinner…), drinking plenty of water, taking exercise/spending time outdoors, and getting enough sleep – these can all help you to feel more resilient and give you the energy to navigate whatever your occasion might bring.
Reach out for support
Many people think that by sharing their feelings with someone close to them, they will be burdening or upsetting them or causing them to worry, but this just isn’t true. Think about how you might feel if the situation was reversed – would you prefer a friend or loved one to struggle alone, or to be able to share their feelings with you so that you could help them?
It’s good to talk about what you’re going through, whether it be with friends, family, the dog *, or us – we’re running a daily drop in over the Christmas period so you can chat to our team if you’re struggling. Head to our support page to find out how you can access one-to-ones or join our peer support group where everyone knows exactly what you’re going through.
* Please note – we cannot be held responsible if the dog does not reply.