The Caregiver’s Journey: A Christmas To Remember

The holidays have come and gone with, to my relief and surprise, very little frustration and anxiety from my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. It is the tradition in the Cheronis/Campbell family that family members gather at the Cheronis home every Christmas Eve for dinner, caroling and some crazy game or two. This time honored tradition has always been one of my Moms favorite times of the year. Each year she would dress up in some crazy outfit (one year it was the Sugar Plum Fairy who looked like she had eaten too many sugar plums! Another year it was a worn-out, raggedy, toothless, Mrs. Santa … you get the picture). She would plan to “entertain” the family members and the grandchildren looked forward to whatever Grandma had up her sleeve each year. We also played a game which we all (with eyes rolling) called “THE Game” where many, many inexpensive and funny gifts were wrapped and put in a huge pile in the middle of the floor by my Mom for us all to take turns opening and fight over. The game took HOURS sometimes and as the grandchildren grew older, and wanted to see friends who were home from college, “The Game” became less and less fun and more and more something that we did just because my Mom got great joy in watching all of us open all those gifts she spent the entire year collecting for each of us. The “12 Days of Christmas” carol was another of the many traditions that was included in this night of family craziness. Everyone would sit in a circle and hold a card with a hand-drawn illustration of each of the 12 days of Christmas. As it came to the time where the card you were holding was sung, you had to jump up from your chair and perform the act that was represented on your card such as “12 Drummers Drumming” and so forth. Believe me, the “acting” of these “12 Days of Christmas” could become quite comical and my Mom took every opportunity to exaggerate her performance when it came her turn to jump up! Our holidays were always loud and full of laughter.

That was then. This year the holidays were filled with anxiety and concern that maybe Mom wouldn’t remember this Christmas or wouldn’t even want to come to the house for dinner because it would be just too much stimulation for her even though we no longer play “The Game” and her performances are only alive in our memories and brought up in conversation after dinner around the table. But this year, yes, this year, there was a sneaky little spark of that humor and joy my Mom used to have at Christmas. We were all setting around the table after dinner, finishing dessert and just having pleasant conversation when my husband suggested we sing some Christmas carols. We decided on which ones to sing and while my Mom sat quietly and just listened to our voices singing the songs of the season, out of nowhere a loud and booming operatic melody rang out. She began to sing as loud and funny as she could! We all began belly laughing as did she and the Christmas carols took on a whole new life of their own. We have not laughed together as a family like that; children, grandchildren, parents and cousins for many, many Christmases. It truly was a Merry Christmas in the Cheronis home this year.

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