By Elizabeth SheanThat stretch of the calendar that falls between mid-November and January 1 ordinarily contains plenty of potential pitfalls for mental stress and depression. Perhaps a family gathering fails to meet expectations. Or maybe the "perfect" gift eludes detection, which leads to disappointment for both giver and receiver. The turkey burns (or fails to cook all the way through), the children throw tantrums, someone spills a glass of red wine on the new white carpeting. All manner of tiny disasters can conspire to ruin the holiday season, even under the best of circumstances.And for Mom and me, this year certainly did not represent the best of circumstances.First of all, we had Mom's declining memory and the shadow of awareness that this might be her last Christmas with us. Second, we had my first holidays as a widow, no beloved spouse to share the festivities with. Then we added a week's-worth of house guests by inviting my sister and her family to stay. What could possibly go wrong?As it turned out, not much. It was a pretty great holiday season, after all.Mom's CAREGiverSM, Anita, was scheduled for a regular shift on December 26, and we asked our local Home Instead Senior Care® office well in advance if Anita was all right with that. To our delight, she said she was. That meant Mom's care schedule did not have to be disrupted—though we knew we could count on our local Home Instead Senior Care office to send an able CAREGiver to fill in if Anita had wanted more holiday time with her family.Inviting my sister and her family to spend the week after Christmas with us gave us something joyful to focus on and deflected any feelings of grief or holiday depression. On the day of my anniversary, I drove my brother-in-law and nephew to see the Alamo in San Antonio, which was an all-day affair and helped keep me from dwelling on my loss. The two men were sensitive to the situation and said we didn't have to go if I didn't feel up for it. But, as I told them, "This is an important day for me, my first wedding anniversary as a widow, and now instead of remembering it as a mournful time I will always remember it as ‘the day I went with Steve and Will to the Alamo.'"We kept the rest of the holidays low-key. A small family dinner with a little wine and some games. My sister surprised all the women of the family with a hard-bound book of photos and precious family recipes from Mom and her female ancestors. Such a treasure!
This holiday season could have been disastrous, but Mom declared it "one of the best ever." If it turns out to be her final Christmas season on earth, then we accomplished something very special.