Five Seasonal Gifts of Time for Brain Injury Caregivers

Brain Injury Blog

Five Seasonal Gifts of Time for Brain Injury Caregivers

by Janet M. Cromer, RN, MA, LMHC

Brain injury caregivers can feel the pressure of “not enough time” even more during the holiday season. Even if your family doesn’t follow a religious or secular tradition, the frenetic energy of others can be unpleasant. Here are five ways to give yourself a special gift of time this year.

  1. Take time to sit with changes and losses. Ambiguous loss can express itself in many new shapes over the holidays. If this is the first holiday season as a family affected by brain injury, you’ll notice several changes that require some compromise or letting go. After my husband Alan’s brain injury, I knew he would find the lights and shiny ornaments of our traditional Christmas tree too over-stimulating to be fun. I loved decorating our tree with ornaments I’d collected for decades, so this was one more reminder that everything in our home had to scaled back to help Alan stay organized and engaged. That brought up an inventory of losses from that first year. After lamenting in my journal about the changes in Alan and our life, I was better able to start a new tradition. I bought a small wire tree and hung a dozen of my favorite ornaments on it. Just enough to satisfy both of us. To move forward while carrying ambiguous loss and grief, we need to name the losses, and then find a way to go in a different direction.
  2. Request gifts of time. When family or friends ask what you or the survivor would like, be ready with a list of time requests. A friend could invite the survivor to lunch. Someone could visit while you meet a friend, or take a walk. Get creative. Make a list of everything you need help with and give friends a choice. I am still grateful to the new friend who offered to help me organize our income taxes! And the pal who shined up our whole kitchen! Everyone has talents they might be willing to share. Email your list to distant family members and suggest that they send a gift certificate, or money to purchase a service.
  3. Prioritize time for your family’s favorite tradition. Even amidst the modifications let there be room for what matters most to other family members. Maybe cooking a favorite meal, sharing a story, a visit from friends, or singing special songs.
  4. Spend time in nature. Go outdoors, even if you walk around the block. The crystalline winter sky full of stars opens space for your spirit to soar. The warmth of a sunrise, chirping of sparrows, or crunch of new snow all refresh a stressed mind. My friend, Ginger Bristow Gaitor, has a wonderful daily ritual of photographing something striking in her immediate world. Ginger posts the photos on her blog, to the delight of many fans. Being in the moment in nature is a gratifying mindfulness practices.
  5. Take time to manage expectations in advance. Chances are that you’ll be spending time with people who haven’t seen much of the survivor since the injury. Email people in advance with a tip sheet for how to best communicate with the survivor. I sent family a brief sheet with specific communication strategies to allow Alan to converse without being interrupted or having someone finish his sentences. And I gave guests a signal when they forgot the strategy.

Be clear about how much socializing, reminiscing, explaining, or receiving feedback you will accommodate. Out-of-town relatives may have their own ideas about what you should be doing differently as a caregiver. Consider telling them in advance that after the holidays you will set up a time to discuss their opinions and welcome their suggestions for how they can be more involved.

May you find many moments of warmth, love, and light over the holidays.

December 14, 2012

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