The holiday season can be a stressful time for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. The Alzheimer Society of Ontario has great tips to help. Above all, you need to keep your sense of humor. This is how our family got through what could have been the saddest Christmas with a lot of love and laughter.
It all starts in October 2005 when we find out my mom has an aggressive brain tumor. We take her to a specialist thinking it is dementia. But later the doctor shows us an x-ray of a giant tumor in her brain and says she will be dead before December.
The family springs into action. We arrange ourselves – four siblings and spouses – to provide her with 24-hour care that allows her to stay in her home. Steroid injections keep her going for a few weeks until she regresses with a form of accelerated dementia.
We will her to live until Christmas and throw ourselves into the preparation of our last Christmas together with her. My brother and sisters agree that we deserve to splurge on a caterer this year.
Instead of stressing, we decorate the house and watch my mother’s eyes light up. We arrange for professional Christmas carolers to come to the house and sing just for her. We each take care in buying little things for her stocking even if she doesn’t know what they are all about.
Every day on the calendar is checked. December 15…still alive. Seven days more and she has stopped talking but nods her answers. The community nurse is amazed there are no brain seizures from the tumor and her vital signs are still good. We chose to believe it’s because she is calm and surrounded by love. December 22nd…23rd all is well. On Christmas Eve she is sitting with us as we sing carols just like she did when we were small.
Finally, it’s morning. There are 14 of us and we try to keep the day normal. As dinner approaches, we seat her at the table while we watch out the snowy window for the catered meal. At last the food is brought steaming through the door.
Potatoes, vegetables, cranberries and turkey are whisked in the door. As my husband carves into the large turkey, he lets out a loud groan. We all see the jellied pink flesh of the undercooked turkey under the slightly crisp skin.
Panic ensues. We hack the turkey into massive chunks and race around in circles to warm them in the oven, the microwave and toaster oven. We try desperately to cook this bird for our last Christmas feast with my mother. “We can do it…,” we all shout as my mom looks on calmly at the fuss around her.
The pieces of turkey are brought back for careful examination, but the grim truth is apparent to everyone. You can’t cook a turkey in a microwave even if it’s in pieces. I can see the headlines: “Family kills dying mother with salmonella poisoning at Christmas.”
At this point, some of us are laughing and others resigned. My sister finally remembers the small ham she brought and saves the day. Keeping all our traditions intact, we pull the Christmas crackers, raise a cheer and laugh with my mom.
A last Christmas dinner together filled with such love that I would never forget it.