December is the time of year we often take stock of our friendships. For most people, the diary is full of social commitments, racing towards Christmas day when families and special friends are together. Christmas time is either something you love and look forward to or dread, and for many people, it is a time of dread, of intense loneliness, and of deep sadness and loss.
Dementia can add another much deeper layer of sadness and intense loneliness.
Love and connection make our hearts sing and for many people Christmas is when it all comes together. Christmas lunches for work, drinks with friends, or just champers on the porch with the neighbours, it all says “you are needed, you are important, you belong”.
For people with dementia, this is often not the case as we are no longer employed, and many of our family and friends have disappeared, too afraid or too ignorant about dementia to stay by our side, not realising we are still the same people.
The times we do spend with others are often too noisy, too full of others remembering when we cannot, and of a sense of loss that is difficult to explain to others, made more difficult when they are so full of enthusiasm.
Christmas heightens the loneliness, and loneliness is probably the most painful part of Christmas, it hollows your heart out, and even if you are with others, it is easy to feel isolated. This is because you can’t keep up with conversations, can’t always remember the things your loved ones reminisce about, and getting through the day (any day) is much more complicated than it used to be. People with dementia are not the only ones who find Christmas difficult, but it is an especially hard time watching others share so much.
For many, Christmas Day itself is a truly wonderful time.
In contrast, I often used to say, “I don’t do Christmas.”
The memories I still have of it are not spectacular, in fact the most prominent are the feelings from this time, both in my childhood, and often throughout my adult life. It was and sometimes still is a troubled time, of family disunity and dysfunction, and has remained so. It has only been because of my dear husband I have learned to like Christmas, although now perhaps because of dementia, some of the sadness has returned.
My family is not funny and wonderful and we don’t eat ourselves silly at the table and pass out with full bellies and hearts, because apart from my husband and sons, we rarely spend this day together.
And I’m not the only one, as it is also not so perfect and joyous for many others, and Christmas always reminds me of them, and how it can be the very worst time of year.
Many of my elderly friends would describe their Christmas day as an empty house, once full of chattering children, but now there’s none left or none visiting. Or a lonely meal with people in a nursing home, people whom they’ve had to become friends with, but who are not their ‘own’ family and friends.
To those with broken hearts and broken families, caused by divorce or illness, and to those who have suffered through death and sadness and who will have an empty place at the table, I am thinking of you. In fact, some people won’t sit at a table at all, or talk to another person on Christmas day. The homeless will gather together in shelters, eating lunches served by volunteers, in a crowd, but still alone. Many simply hope the day will pass like any other, but more quickly.
So this Christmas, if you feel lonely, know that you are not alone.
Try not to get bogged down with PLOM disease (Poor Little Old Me!).
Do look for the glass half full approach to the day, and don’t waste your sadness on things that ultimately don’t matter… we all live until we die, and surely it’s more fun living. Ultimately, I feel blessed almost every day, and work hard to keep finding the joy in living.
Go for the Dude’s Guide to Christmas. It is after all, up to us to choose.