Bereavement, Elder Care

When Home for the Holidays gets Complicated: My story of Chanukah with my Grandmother

When my bubbie (never heard of a ‘bubbie’? It’s a term used in the Jewish community to mean grandmother!) first moved into the long term care facility at Baycrest, a seniors home and hospital, the furthest thing from my mind was how our family celebrations would change. Indeed, for the first few years, things were able to carry on as usual during the holiday season.

Chanukah

Photo Credit: Chanukah, CC Image courtesy of elana’s pantry on Flickr.

In my family we celebrate Chanukah (for more info on Chanukah, and other winter holidays, check out this great blog from fellow FCO blogger, Louis), and we typically hold a dinner with my small family that includes my parents, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin and grandparents. Most years, we have our Chanukah dinner at my place because, well, we have the biggest  living room! When she first moved to Baycrest, my bubbie was still, shall I say, with it. We were able to take her out of the hospital and bring her to my house to celebrate with us. The holidays were still normal – well as normal as family holidays can be!

Soon however, my bubbie’s health began declining. She suffered from dementia and it was becoming more and more challenging to take her out of the hospital for our yearly Chanukah celebrations.  One winter, we decided that we would try something new.  Baycrest has rooms with kitchens and tables that are available to families to use for just this purpose; allowing you to continue family traditions and experiences when a family member is living in long term care.  So, we celebrated Chanukah in a small party room in the Baycrest Hospital.  It was certainly different, and it definitely didn’t feel like home, but I think that this was one of the best ways we could continue to celebrate the holidays, while still keeping my grandmother comfortable.

The next year, we once again tried something different. We really wanted to have my grandma with us for Chanukah, so we held the dinner at my aunt’s place, just a short walk from Baycrest.  We thought that this would be easy; we could quickly walk my bubbie over and avoid any complicated transportation missions.

DDR

Photo Credit: Chanukah; CC Image courtesy of lisa whitney on Flickr. –

Unfortunately, this dinner was disaster.  My grandma was confused, distressed and clearly unhappy. She cried and yelled and would hardly eat. Of course, her unhappiness spread to the rest of us as it was difficult so see her so disoriented and upset. As soon as we finished dinner, instead of playing our usual game of dreidel, it was clear my grandma needed to return home. So we returned her to Baycrest and called it a night.

The remaining holidays, following that infamous night, consisted of a visit to Baycrest and attending holiday celebrations in the hospital. Though this was not what we wanted as a family, of course we wished that everyone could be together celebrating like usual in my living room, this was what my bubbie needed.

What did I learn from this experience? At the end of the day, it’s wasn’t about us. We wanted so badly to bring our family together to celebrate the holidays, that we ended up causing discomfort and distress to my grandmother. Towards the end, we realized that we could hold on to our memories of holiday celebrations with my grandmother, but taking her away from her home at this point to relive the past ignored her own needs and comfort. If you are beginning to plan  your holiday celebrations and have a parent/grandparent/relative with Alzheimer’s or dementia, check out these helpful links for tips to make the celebrations more enjoyable for everyone:

Last but not least, be good to yourself this holiday season.  If you need support, ask!

Emma Helfand-Green

Emma is in her second year of the Master of Public Policy program. She recently completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph, studying psychology and political science. When she is not blogging for the Family Care Office, you might find Emma volunteering at the Hart House theatre, working hard (or hardly working) at the Robarts Library, or spending quality time with her cat, Goose.

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