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Christmas and end-of-life caring

Written by Dr, Kristina Thomas

  • 13 December 2023
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Christmas and end-of-life caring

There are many ways to maintain a festive spirit while caring for someone who is at the end of life. However, it is important to discuss with the person you are caring for to find out what is most important for them in celebrating Christmas.

CELEBRATE – Consider ways that you can keep your family traditions going and include the person you are caring for in the celebrations. You may have to think about ways you could do things slightly differently this year. If you can’t go out, you could ask people to bring the meal to you (and the person you are caring for). If the person you are caring for needs you close by but prefers a quiet environment, then you could offer your garden for a family get together (while the person rests inside).

SENSES – Even people who are at the very end of life are still often able to enjoy simple experiences. Consider ways that you can create a positive experience. Listening to Christmas carols together, set up Christmas lights, or looking at family photos of prior Christmas’ can be enjoyable. Make some of their favourite Christmas foods. Even the smell of cooking can be pleasurable and evoke nice memories.

SAY NO – It is okay to say ‘No’ to things that you feel will be too hard this year or let some traditions go. Don’t be critical of yourself or feel like you should be doing more. It is also okay if you want to be alone, just with the person you are caring for.

BE FLEXIBLE – Often Christmas gets planned early and the person may deteriorate quickly over a month or two. Therefore, it is always a good idea to keep plans flexible and have a back-up plan in case the person’s energy levels and mood are not up to the original plan.

SUPPORT – The festive season is really all about supporting family and friends.  Friends and family may be very willing to help and are often just waiting to be asked - so let them help. Talking to friends and family can help or call a helpline or reach out to a health professional if you feel like you need more support.

RESPITE - Allocate time to enjoy the festive season.  It’s important that carers are able to take a break from caring to reduce stress and recharge the batteries.  Make arrangements to ensure you have some ‘me time’ during the festive season by accessing respite services or asking family or friends to assist you.  

Preparing for the "Last Christmas", is often challenging, as most families want it to be the best Christmas ever, and this builds expectations and often disappointment as what they had hoped for, cannot be achieved.  I stress it is about what the person is capable of doing, and what is meaningful for them, keeping it realistic is very important. It's also really important to consider what the patient actually wants, and it's ok to be selfish.  They may not want a big gathering, or they may want everyone possible to be present.” (Nurse Practitioner Regina Kendall)

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