December 9, 2009

The Cycle of Life

maryBy Mary Schricker, SRES
Ruhl&Ruhl Real Estate

Holidays are typically a time of joy and happiness. But while everyone else is immersed in the hustle and bustle of the season, there are many caregivers who are struggling with the holiday spirit while watching their loved ones succumb to illness or even death. I remember the first holiday season after my mom’s stroke. Her weakened condition made it difficult for her to participate in all of the activities that were so much a part of our family’s traditions. She had always made the pumpkin pies and baked her special nut bread. She had never missed a year of sending Christmas cards, some to people who she had known for over 60 years. She prided herself on carefully selecting presents for each family member as well as her friends. My mom was a giver, and it was important to her to keep giving.  

My mom’s persistence would not allow her to admit she could no longer perform these simple tasks. It is difficult to tell someone they are not able to physically and mentally do the things they have spent their life doing.   The anger and emotions that played out during these months added increased stress to all of us involved in my mother’s caregiving. We felt sad for her, sad for the loss of the traditions, and a bit less enthused about our own holiday festivities. But knowing it could be her last, we knew we needed to make it as good as we could. We helped her do cards, and took her shopping, and wrapped the presents, but it just wasn’t the same for her; she missed doing it herself. It was such a range of emotions to deal with along with all the other stresses during this trying time.

Visits to my mom in the nursing home were difficult during the weeks before and during this first holiday season. She missed her condo and would beg anyone who would listen to find a way to help her return home.   We tried to decorate her room and make it feel festive, but nothing we did could even come close to matching the memories of holidays past in her own home. She just simply lost the joy of the season. 

My mom lived another eighteen months through anniversaries, birthdays and additional holidays. We met the challenges of each day as best we could, again knowing, in our hearts, that it could be her last. I am glad we had all of those extra celebrations with my mom even if she was not fully able to enjoy them. 

The passing of time has a way of allowing us to forget the “not so good” times and help us remember the “good” ones. Today when I think of the holidays I picture my mom in the kitchen of my childhood home, hot pad in hand, carefully removing that pumpkin pie from the oven. If I concentrate hard enough I can almost smell the freshly baked nut bread. I see colorful packages piled high under a towering, slightly crooked tree, in front of the bay window of our living room. Those are the memories that I want to keep. And even though we lost my mom this past year, we added a new family member. I asked my new daughter-in-law the other day if she wanted to help me make nut bread! And so we pass the torches of yesterday as we make new memories and traditions. That is the cycle of life!