It’s that time of year again. Calendars are packed with holiday happenings and gatherings, and everyone is in on an adrenaline rush with the excitement and rush to make sure the house is decorated, gifts are purchased and wrapped, and treats and meals are made. What if you’re not feeling that excitement you once felt because you’re thinking about what the family gathering is going to be like when your loved one isn’t able to participate in conversation as he once did? What if you feel more like you’re grieving and mourning the loss of those old traditions that are no longer possible because of the physical and communicative challenges that are accompanying your loved one’s Aphasia? Or you are dreading the extra social events that take place during the holidays when everyone else can’t wait to attend?
If you’re having these thoughts or feeling this way, whether you are someone surviving Aphasia or caring for someone with Aphasia, I want to make sure you know it is ok to feel this way. It is not only normal, but is to be expected. The holiday traditions that once defined you, were a part of your identity as an individual and a family, no longer exist the way they once did, leaving you feel like a part of you is gone. Socialization is a huge part of holiday celebrations, and changes in communication can make this particularly challenging. Additionally, you may be faced with family members or friends that do not truly understand Aphasia or the challenges it presents, causing them to quickly make assumptions or provide unsolicited advice that is not likely or possible, increasing frustrations and feelings of disappointment.
Perhaps we should consider the holiday traditions we once had that we are now missing, and ask ourselves why they were valuable in the first place. What made them so special? Why did we carry these out year after year? Once we figure out the value in our old traditions, it may allow us to reinvent new traditions that are based on the same values, allowing us to fill the holiday void and feel more fulfilled during this time of year. For example, maybe you used to enjoy baking cookies with your grandchildren, but you are no longer able to bake or cook due to limited use of your right side. You realize that the value in that experience was spending valuable, one-on-one time with your grandchildren and creating a memory that will stay with them forever. So perhaps buying already baked cookies that only need to be iced and sprinkled, or buying a pre-made gingerbread house and decorating it, can be a potential new tradition that still holds the same values as your old tradition.
So whatever you are feeling this holiday season as someone living with Aphasia, whether it’s your first holiday season with Aphasia or your 10th, allow yourself to feel the way you do. It is ok to feel different than everyone else, to empathize with your situation, and to feel some grief and loss this time of year. However, I encourage you to seek out new traditions and new experiences that allow you to start to fill that holiday void, serving the same values that once made your holidays feel complete. Discover new ways to create lasting memories, explore events that require less conversation and more observation, and surround yourselves with those who understand the impact of your situation and support you in your challenges.
Happy holidays to you and your families.