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I Was Wrong When I Said There Would Be No Presents This Christmas

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By Elizabeth Shean

My sister, Jan, and her family are coming to visit the week after Christmas. This cheers me immensely. I am facing my first holiday season as a widow, and it has been difficult so far. I got through Thanksgiving by holing up in a back bedroom at my brother’s house and watching football games all day while a dozen other family members chatted and enjoyed my sister-in-law’s delicious cooking in the main living area. As I have put it to my relatives: I’m struggling with grief-related depression, and the commotion of a party tends to make this worse for some reason.

So, when Jan and I settled on the post-Christmas week for their visit, I laid a few ground rules because I did not feel one iota of holiday spirit: there will be no decorations, I told her. No presents. No lavish parties. No commotion. I just couldn’t cope with all that stuff.

That was fine with Jan, but I forgot to account for Mom in the equation.

Mom agreed with the “no presents” stipulation, but otherwise she wants an all-singing, all-dancing holiday, replete with the full gamut of decorations, large parties and constant family togetherness. She has stated several times this will probably be her “last Christmas,” and she wants to mark it with a bang.

The problem is I do not have the mental or emotional energy to put into celebrating Christmas that lavishly this year. My goal is simply to survive it.

And so I have spent some time this December contemplating how I can meet both Mom’s needs for a spectacular “last” Christmas (in her mind) and my own need for a bare-bones holiday with plenty of downtime to mourn my late husband.

I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have both my sister and Mom’s CAREGiver℠, Anita, to help me balance these competing priorities. After I confided my stress to Anita, she enthusiastically volunteered to put up​ Christmas decorations with Mom. She also has begun taking Mom away from the house more frequently during her twice-weekly visits. Anita shuttles Mom to lunch, to get her hair cut, to the grocery store to peruse the tabloids and pick up treats. In doing this, Anita blesses me with an hour or two of pure alone-time each week, and she provides the high degree of social interaction Mom craves—and that I can’t deliver right now.

And my sister volunteered to take on all the party-planning duties so that I don’t have to devote any precious energy to it. Even from 800 miles away, she can text various family members to arrange dates and times, find out who can lend folding tables for our little banquet and research affordable catering options (because that’s what Mom wants). After she arrives in Houston, Jan will occupy as much of Mom’s time as possible so that I can spend time napping or locked in my home office listening to music and reflecting on the 30 wonderful Christmases I shared with my dear Lee.

Once Jan and Anita took over the holidays for me, I finally felt a small spark of the festive spirit. And I realized I had been mistaken when I said there would be “no presents” this Christmas. In truth I’ve received the greatest gifts of all: peace and joy. I’m so very grateful.

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