By Karen Bromberg
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt emotionally bowled-over with the approach of Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. Raise your hand as the specter of a birthday or anniversary looms.
Now, please raise your hand if you’ve ever found yourself remembering with fondness a point in time when your loved one was younger (still sporting their own natural hair color), healthier (still able to walk and tend their self), and more cognitively intact. Raise your hand if, once you come back to the present day, you find yourself feeling sad or depressed, knowing that what once was is now over.
You are not alone.
If you’re like everyone else (everyone who has ever taken up the mantle of caregiving, that is), I’m sure there are times throughout the year when you find yourself more emotional.
You might be remembering those delicious pumpkin pies your mother used to make at Thanksgiving or the stuffed cabbage your grandmother used to spend hours on; making sure they were just right, making sure they were ready for the Passover seder. The Ham your favorite aunt used to lovingly prepare for Easter dinner. The look on your father’s face that time you surprised him for his birthday and the whole family was there.
This past weekend, we celebrated Passover and Easter. A joyous time of year, to be sure. A time of year for renewal. A time to look forward.
But for many of us overwhelmed family caregivers and former caregivers, it’s also a time of looking back and often looking back with sadness.
Now don’t get me wrong, looking back can be quite pleasant, comforting as a matter of fact; waltzing down memory lane, re-living old events. It can feel safe; a kind of refuge, if you will, when we were not responsible for the day-in and day-out caregiving tasks that have come to fill our days.
For those whom caregiving has ended a result of the death of a loved one, these times when we find ourselves looking back might be especially difficult. We may find ourselves remembering those times when our loved one was still here, them sitting around the seder table or them having Easter dinner. We recall the sound of our loved one’s voice. The feel of their skin as we gently stroke their cheek.
In my own case, I often find these times of year EXTRAORDINARILY difficult, filled with emotional landmines that, until I walk over one and am bowled over by it, I am not even aware of. I mean, one moment I could be perfectly fine then the next moment, a stray thought could go through my head and before I know, there come there tears.
And yes, I know, it’s all part of the mourning process. But I find, especially during these times of years, it feels as though the scab that is just now starting to form becomes weaker.
So what do I do when I’m faced with one of those emotional landmines? Well . . . several things. I started doing them kind of unconsciously. Really, they were just things that seemed to work for me in helping me to tread those choppy emotional waters until I was able to swim myself to something calmer.
The strategies are easy – so easy that, in fact, they might not feel like strategies at all, but they are. They are easy but they are not simple. That said, they are SO worth it!
Strategy #1: Forgiving ourselves and others
I can’t stress this enough! To my mind, the only thing that holding onto old hurt, old anger and old resentment does is keep us stuck in the past, and I don’t mean the comforting part of the past. I mean the part of the past where emotional turmoil lives. Focusing on that only keeps us mired in emotional muck.
Strategy #2: Staying in the present
An argument can be made for putting this as Strategy #1 because the “easiest” and some would say, the only way for us to forgive ourselves and others, is when we are fully grounded in the present moment, which, from personal experience, I find to be very true.
When I am present in the moment old hurts, old angers, and old resentments just don’t seem to have the same kind of hold on me. I am better able to say to myself (and mean it), “it was what it was” and let it go.
The trick, however, is to stay present because, as we all know, the mind wants to drag us back to the past or catapult us forward into the future – nothing we can do about that. It’s just the nature of the mind. For help to keep us grounded, a regular meditation practice comes in handy.
And it doesn’t even have to be sitting on a cushion. It can just be becoming aware of our surroundings, of focusing in on the feel of air as it travels in and out of the nostrils. If we can master either of these two simple techniques, it would go a long way in helping us to stay grounded in the present moment.
Strategy #3: Allowing joy into our lives
I know, I know, if you are an overwhelmed family caregiver or if your caregiving responsibilities have ended due to the death of your loved one, joy is probably not high on your emotional menu right now. I get it. Boy, do I get it!
If that is where you are, then please know that that is fine. Take all the time you need, but please don’t forget that when you are ready, joy is still an option.
You see, joy is one of those emotions that is our birthright to have and enjoy but it’s also one of those emotions that we tend to put up on a shelf, (“Oh, I’ll be joyful when such and such is or isn’t happening in my life.”) but that said, joy can be so beneficial in helping us to heal. Why, even the sound of it – JOY – can bring a smile to our face.
Now, to be honest, I don’t have tips to help us bring more joy into our lives. I’ll be perfectly blunt about it, for me bringing more joy into my life is still a work in progress but know that when I have more to share I’ll be sure to tell you.
Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries — they all can make the already slippery slope of family caregiving (both current and former) even more slippery. We find ourselves remembering times, places and events, which might be very soothing but it can also bring up old pains and hurt not to mention potentially make us sad as we remember what used to be.
The result is that instead of feeling comforted we become exhausted. It is my hope, therefore, that the above strategies can serve to help with navigating these emotional landmines and that instead of these “special” times of year causing stress, and sadness, they can pave the way to joy.
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. If you have any questions about these strategies or would like to contact her for help and support in your caregiving journey, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For resources, tips, support, and information regarding family caregiving, please join our mailing list.