A Quiet Season

Approaching the holidays


My father died this year. It was before we heard those strange words – coronavirus, social distancing, community spread. I am honored and grateful that I was able to travel to Connecticut and spend a week with him in his world in February. Another month and I never would have seen him again.

There are a lot of things I can imagine – a world without trees, Europe without Facebook, eating crickets, wearing jeans to a wedding, jumping from an airplane, sailing over a waterfall, writing a symphony, traveling time and space in a blue police box. Every time someone says those words, “can you imagine that?” I say yes, because I can.

But now there are things I really can’t imagine – never seeing a family member again when they go into the hospital, being the nurse who makes the calls every day telling people their loved one will not survive, stirring hate into the world.

And things I see that I never imagined because they are so strange – silent streets, a line of masked people that extends around the corner of Lowe’s Home Improvement waiting their turn to get in, lines of hundreds of cars with masked occupants waiting to get tested, the country turning on itself violently.

The caregivers of the world have a particular burden to carry, support can be hard to find. There are those at home, taking care of family members; in hospitals taking care of patients; and in-between there are professionals and volunteers, loving and kind individuals who go into homes to support and provide services for those who need help.

My friend Chinda Lucoski has been a caregiver for 40 years, since her daughter Alicia was a 1-year-old. She said it is essential for caregivers to take care of their own needs, as well as those of others.

“You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of other people,” Lucoski said. “Be connected with other caregivers to talk to. Find a network for people dealing with similar disabilities.”

Caregivers must put up with a lot of emotions, she said, so they need support from others in similar situations to help prevent burnout.

Encouraging all caregivers, from unpaid family members to professionals hired in the home, to become familiar with what’s going on with the person(s) for whom they are caring, Chinda suggests searching on a computer, making calls and looking for referrals for the right caregiver coalition for the condition. There often is a small local group or a statewide organization.

“You need to know why the mood swings,” she said.  “You have to understand the condition and then try to understand someone. You might have to walk slow, go to an appointment, be patient.”

For example, Chinda said in the evenings a Parkinson’s patient might get down and moody. The caregiver will need to be proactive in order to manage the conditions.

When things are overwhelming “take a break, walk away, no confrontation,” she said.

“It’s all taking a different spin for care team members,” Chris Chaffin, communications director for the Alzheimer's Association’s New Mexico Chapter said. “The challenges are many, and now we’re entering the holidays. Caregivers tend to neglect their own issues which increases mortality. The burden of caregiving is great.”

Time has taken on strange proportions, passing so fast it seems a blink turns over a new month and here is the December issue of Desert Exposure, Christmas, finding a way to plan for another year but having no way to see the shape of it. But then again, my middle son married last November, and it seems so long ago that it’s hard to remember, especially the part where everybody is hugging, dancing and swinging children in circles.

But as the world moves forward the creative nature of humankind rises to the top. My sister arranged a menu where we could all cook the same thing for Thanksgiving with our favorite foods even though we can’t. My son will make a smoked turkey, my mom her rosojle (Estonian potato salad with beets), and those will be delivered by another son.

Some families are taking it further, cooking together via Zoom and/or eating together the same way. Holidays are good times to support local too, ordering meals from area restaurants. We can up the sharing elements by sending cards and gifts thoughtfully assembled.

We can be thankful too that some of the normal holiday stress is gone. We don’t have to count heads, set tables, and people don’t have to face a fallen cake or a weird sweet potato concoction. We don’t have to drive or fly anywhere and, wait, we can eat dinner in our pajamas if we want to.

Creating new traditions, families can change mindsets, think about ways to share their blessings, get closer with those normally not included in the party because they are too far away or shy or socially awkward. Suddenly those distant connections are more important. Create a new desert that everyone can make, take a walk in the wild places.

“Rituals make the ordinary extraordinary,” Catherine Sanderson, professor of psychology at Amherst College, told the Associated Press. “A pumpkin pie on a random day in October is just a pumpkin pie. But a pumpkin pie on the fourth Thursday of November is not just pumpkin pie: It’s part of Thanksgiving. Our intentions, coupled with the season, elevate it.”

And that’s true even if the ritual has been moved because of unique circumstances.

The key this year, Sanderson said, may be accepting that things needs to evolve — and avoiding comparisons with celebrations from years past. If you try to replicate past holidays exactly, it’s likely that this year’s will feel inferior.

If we accept the world as new, and focus on the joy, whatever it may be, the season can still be a blessing. Mazel tov.

Elva K. Österreich is editor of Desert Exposure and would love to meet Desert Exposure readers in Silver City or any of our coverage areas. Please contact her at editor@desertexposure.com or by cell phone at 575-443-4408 to set a place and time to meet.