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Imperfect Christmas is perfect considering the circumstances

"Minding Our Elders" columnist Carol Bradley Bursack says traditions might change after losing loved ones, but joy and good memories are still possible during the holidays.

Carol Bradley Bursack updated column sig for online 10-21-19.jpg
Carold Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
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Dear Carol: My parents were wonderful grandparents, and their presence was a big part of our holiday fun with the kids. Sadly, last year my dad had a heart attack on Dec. 4 and died shortly after. Losing him pushed my mom from mild memory problems into dementia so she’s since moved to assisted living.

Together, those events understandably made last Christmas sad, but this year doesn’t seem much better. We’ll bring Mom here for our meal though she can’t participate very much, so in a way we’ve lost them both. This has all been difficult for everyone, especially the kids. I’ve tried hard to make this Christmas special for them, but I don’t feel that I’ve done enough to offset the loss of the grandparents’ participation. Will next year be better? — RT.

Dear RT: I’m sorry about your family losing your dad and then seeing your mom’s cognition decline. This has been a seriously hard time for your family.

First, let me assure you that you’ve done enough. This Christmas will be different than those from before your dad passed on and likely it will be different than those in your future. Realistically, though, no two holiday seasons are identical and that’s probably a good thing. Life is never static which is why as much as traditions are cherished during the holidays they also evolve.

In my situation, two holiday seasons in a row started off with family deaths. The next year, my youngest son said to me, “I hope we don’t have a funeral this Christmas.” I told him that I hoped so, too. It turned out that we didn’t have any funerals that season but the next year my dad died Dec. 2, so once again we mourned as we celebrated.


Realistically, our traditions had been evolving for years, first as the various grandparents aged and then as deaths occurred. Through my years of elder care, I pared down the baking and adjusted cooking times. When the grandparents couldn’t come to dinner at our house, my sister and I took shifts so we could spend time with them in their facility home. In between our shifts, we enjoyed a family dinner and gift opening focusing on our kids. This may have been an imperfect choice, but the best our situation would allow.

By the time our elders had all passed, our kids' needs had changed as well. We had and still have our traditions, but they remain fluid.

My family story reflects what is happening in your life, RT. Yes, your traditions are changing and the holidays will never again be like when your dad was there or when your mom could fully participate. Yet they can evolve in a way that’s still satisfying.

Christmas will come as it always does, and your kids will enjoy it if in a slightly different manner. Try to allow yourself some joy as well. You did everything right for your current circumstances. I’m sending you an extra caregiver hug for the holidays.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver and a nationally-recognized presence in caregiver support. She's the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” a longtime newspaper columnist and host of her blog at mindingoureldersblogs.com. Carol's an introverted book nerd, so you won't see her mugging in viral videos, but you can easily reach her using the contact form at mindingourelders.com.
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