Christmas with an Illness or Disability

This won’t be your typical article about how to cope at Christmastime when living with an illness or disability.  This includes recovery from a serious condition such as recovery from cancer or chronic Lyme disease.  Most of those writers tell you to do this or that instead of your cherished traditions.  What if “doing stuff” is the problem?  No, I am not going to do that!

Hi there.  Today I am writing directly to the person whose ability to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and New Year’s has changed.  If you are a caregiver or healthcare professional, feel free to share this with the one entrusted to your care.  Some of these points will apply to anyone feeling stressed over the holiday season.  Most importantly I hope my words strike a cord with the patient, the daughter, the son, the wife, the husband, the mother, the father who cannot do things as he or she once did.  How do I know?  I am “disabled.”  While I like to say that I am on an extended medical leave from my profession of occupational therapy,  more accurately I have been off from work for nearly 5 years with no end in sight.  That’s a lot of Christmases!  So here is what I do:

First and foremost, simply be.  Nothing is more important right now.  November and  December are wonderful times to live simply as you are, marveling at the change from Fall to Winter, the pretty decorations, the meaningful music, the birth of Christ,  and memories of the myriad people/places/and things in days gone by that make you smile.

I am not necessarily referring to things you might DO here.  If you can pull out some pictures or a decoration for your kitchen table (next to your favorite chair?) then by all means go for it.  For the rest of us we will enjoy the public displays when out and about, the extra glam on websites as we surf the net, or maybe display a Christmas card or two more prominently when they come in the mail than we might have done so in the past.  How easy is that?  Here in the northern United States we have snow already which brings on that holiday feeling all by itself.  All I have to do is open the drapes for a Wintry display of wonder!  Playing music or reminiscing are incredibly easy as well, even if a loved one must pop the CD in the player for you.  Done!

     Second, let someone important to you know that you care about them, your needs, things for which you are grateful, that you are thinking of them (praying for them?), your Christmas greetings, etc., as appropriate.  Short gestures of communication, especially shared in-person or with your own voice, are often way more meaningful than 90 pre-printed Christmas cards sent from your dog-eared address book!  Most everyone does that.  How many folks pick up the phone just to connect these days?   If you are just not up to it, how about adding a personal note inside one of those free e-cards online?  My personal favorite is DaySpring.

Third, if there is something you *must DO* then make the most of it.  Find a little something special that you can pursue for yourself that has symbolic or real meaning to you at this time of year.  Celebrate it a little more than it might warrant any other time of the year.  It’s really a matter of perspective.  This gesture could be alone or with a loved one:  you decide based upon your resources.  For me this might include just changing my profile picture on Facebook to a Snoopy’s Christmas cartoon as it makes me grin every time I look at it.  For others it might include adding a tiny dark chocolate bar to the grocery list and taking it home in your pocket instead of the family grocery bag.  Others may be able to do something more active like driving home through a new neighborhood one night after an appointment to discover new Christmas light displays.  This is really a small thingy with BIG IMPACT.

Now that I have warmed up this topic, perhaps other new meditations, prayer times, worship, celebrations or traditions will come to mind.  It just has to be meaningful enough to you to replace what is on hold right now.  And hey, what if you land on something new that you will look forward to next year?  Now that’s a wonderful thought to carry you through the new year for sure.  Merry Christmas and happy new year to you!

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