you stressed about having all your family and your husband's family here at Christmas?"
a friend asked. "Of course not," I replied. "I'm sure we all drive
each other nuts sometimes, but we never argue; it's not like Chevy Chase's Christmas
did I know that the holiday would end with shouts of anger, accusations, hurt
feelings and many tears. It seems no matter how perfect your family may be, there
is always a chance that the stress of the holidays can blow emotions out of proportion.
When you live with a chronic condition it can feel like the odds are even less
in your favor. "The hardest part of the holidays is the unrealistic expectations
my extended family has of us," shares Liz C. "They truly do not get
that I have long-term health problems. The best I can do is pray that God will
give them a big dose of understanding each year."
most of us have come to realize over time is that the term dysfunctional describes
nearly all families on some level. None of us function effectively, one hundred
percent of the time. But that doesn't mean we love our family any less. In a poll
taken two years after the 9/11 tragedy, 78% of the respondents said their family
was more of a priority than before 9/11-an increase compared with the 69% who'd
said the same thing right after the attack.
are some ways to keep your holiday family gatherings going smoothly:
Lisa Lorden, former editor of Fibromyalgia Online
writes, "[Illness] oftentimes makes [our loved ones] feel helpless and uncomfortable,
and they may behave in awkward ways or simply feel the need to create distance.
Their emotions of fear, disappointment and loss are often complicated by feelings
of guilt for being healthy. . ." Assume that your family loves you and that
their lack of understanding or insensitive comments about your illness or limitations,
come from their own awkwardness. Seeing your battle with illness worries and saddens
them. When I've had a bad flare during the holidays I've had some family members
hardly mention it. I've also had them act remote and distant when I used a wheelchair
at an amusement park for a holiday outing. Their anger and frustrations were at
the illness itself, and not at me, but sometimes it felt like no one even noticed
I was in pain. Remind yourself that they do care, but they may not always show
it in the ways you would prefer. Leona S. shares, "My family seem to think
that they have to fix me versus just visit with me." Although this can be
frustrating, recognize their heart and just try to get through the day. They are
grieving your illness too.
Go of the Guilt
When we live with illness we feel like the more we try
to meet other people's expectations the more we fail. "My family does Christmas
like Martha Stewart," shares Karey. "They always have large gatherings
full of wonderful desserts and lots of presents with the fancy wrappings. When
I show up with a few presents in gift bags, I feel like I'm not keeping up."
Judy says, "My family expects me to do most of the work [preparing for the
holidays] because I don't work."
Where is God?, Sherri Connell writes, "There can be a be a lot of resentment
towards people with debilitating illness because they are not able to help out
as much as they would like or even at all. It is very difficult for us to understand
how they can say they are unable to lend a hand when they look perfectly capable."
If you need to go take a nap, just do it! Your first priority is to take care
of yourself so you can enjoy their company as much as possible. Just tell people
you needed some extra "beauty sleep" and laugh it off. Or casually explain
to them that you aren't deserting them, but just taking some time out to take
care of yourself.
Flanary Gareth, pastor of Glen Rock Church of Christ in PA says,
"Refuse to argue. There are certain people who love to draw you into arguments
because this is the way they get attention. When they draw you into an argument
they feel like they are controlling you." If an argument begins to occur,
just calmly walk away. Arguments will just drain your energies and your spirit,
and in the end nobody's opinion will have changed. Proverbs 12:16 says, "When
a fool is annoyed, he quickly lets it be known. Smart people will ignore an insult."
Control how you respond. It's tough, but worth it!
Researchers have found that just one extra 20-second hug-or
10 minute of hand-holding-can make you feel more happy and relaxed. Dr. Joyce
Brothers wrote an article for Parade Magazine on families (March 7, 2004). "Take
the first step. Don't stint on hugs and compliments-and don't forget smiles. When
apart, write notes or send e-mails or videotapes of events. Make yourself available
to help out when needed. Or simply help without being asked." If people have
been out of touch with you and have briefly heard third-hand about the difficulties
of your illness, they may not even realize that there are things that you are
unable to do. Recognize this.
the other hand, we can get so caught up in our own lives and the challenges of
living with illness that we don't take time to ask our relatives about their families.
In the book, Young People and Chronic Illness: True Stories, Help, and Hope author
Kelly Huegel explains to children how to address their siblings. We could all
apply these simple lessons to our own lives:
their feelings. When you let your sisters and brothers know that you are trying
to see their side of things, they will be more accepting of how your condition
affects them all.
not to address a problem: "You know, I'm really sick of your pouting. You're
so selfish! My doctor appointments are more important than some stupid dance recital."
instead: "I understand that you're upset that Mom and Dad couldn't go to
your recital. You must have been really disappointed. I know they would have gone
if they could. We all would have. Unfortunately, this was the only time I could
get in to see the doctor. I hope we'll be able to plan things a little better
in the future so this won't happen again."
let self-absorption or envy prevent you from reaching out to others and participating.
Discuss Your Illness
Despite how much you want everyone to understand,
don't use the holiday to educate them. No matter how much they love you they don't
want to hear about your colonoscopy during dinner. After going into details about
your spinal tap and bed-rest you'll probably feel disappointed and frustrated
by their response: Kids will interrupt, cooking timers will go off, new relatives
will arrive and spouses will uncomfortably leave the room.
allow yourself to be vulnerable to hearing their health advice, theories, and
stories about friends of a friend who had the same illness. You'll get looks of
pity and awkwardness. Protect yourself from this, because it's doubtful you have
anything to gain. You won't receive the validation you seek. It's okay to share
about your difficulties or mixed emotions, but do this with a trusted loved one,
one-on-one at a different time.
than saying, "I can't," or "I shouldn't," all day, be responsible
for offering options that you can do. Bring a sugar-free dessert that you can
eat and share with others (see page 23). Bring a game that you enjoy playing.
Bring your video camera and have people share their favorite holiday memory with
you. Prepare in advance how you can participate. If working in the kitchen drains
you, bring a craft project that the kids can do and you can oversee. Take photos
of the cousins to send to their parents after the holidays with a brief note.
If you tire out easily, be creative about your contribution. For example, work
on a family Christmas album after the holidays that is displayed each year. "We
send a round-robin note by snail mail to invite and everyone," shares Jewel
Gieseke, who lives with diabetes and osteo-arthritis. "We all fill in what
we are bringing for food and games and this seems to help a lot!"
Leona S. says, "Too much noise or too many people around
me at once is bothersome now with this illness." Know your boundaries and
even explain them to the hostess in advance so your actions aren't misinterpreted
and feelings aren't hurt. "We take two vehicles," says Jewel Gieseke.
"That way my husband can stay and I can leave peaceably. He usually stays
seven hours; I can only handle three at the most. It prevents any arguments between
the two of us about when we are leaving."
a Sense of Humor
Humor can go a long way when it comes to families. None
of us are perfect! Just watch any of the Chevy Chase, National Lampoon movies
to get you in the spirit. According to the American Cancer Society, many studies
have shown that a sense of humor literally reduces the stress and physical pain
we feel, as well as increases our quality of life. And people who laugh regularly
report feeling less anxious.
"My husband is from a family of six sisters and
four brothers and they all have at least three children," says Gieseke. "Needless
to say we have had feuds in this family. I have found it a must to pray before
we go. If they are not talking to us right away and looking cranky and I pray,
'Lord, help us to get along with each other,'-they all of a sudden start talking
back with us!"
Life is Short
Lastly, do your best to live Romans 12:18: "If it is
possible, as far as it depends on you; live at peace with everyone." We aren't
able to change other people, but we can do our best to give our best: an attitude
of gratitude, an ability to show affection, the wisdom to know when to walk away
and grace and prayer. Simple steps can assure that this is a season of family
peace and not a season where a family is left in pieces.