Christmas is not that far away, and as I was counting the sleeps until a trip we have booked in June next year, I also started to think about it, as well as count down the days… and it is less than 70 days until Christmas 2014! I used to really dislike Christmas, as there has never been a sense of ‘happy families’ in my past. My dear husband and his parents (when they were alive) taught me to enjoy it more, and to simply take each moment as it is, without worrying about those who either refuse contact, or who are actively unpleasant.
With dementia in mind, my feeling and thinking about Christmas has changed again. 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 a Christmas day that many families and special friends spend 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.
Love and connection make our hearts sing and for many people Christmas is when that all comes together. Christmas lunches for work, drinks with friends, or just champers on the porch with the neighbours or family, 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, or isolated in other ways, and many of our family and friends have disappeared, too scared 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 excitement and 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 lonely and 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 (in fact, 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, remember, reminisce and simply spend this time together with their close family and friends.
If you have a friend or family member with dementia, or know someone whose family do not support them for any reason at all, then perhaps we should all make an effort to help Christmas 2014 one for them to at least enjoy, even if they won’t remember it.