“Did you survive the holidays?” I was asked at work, and was immediately struck by the absurdity of the question. I’m not the hospice patient, after all, and I was expected to survive the month of festivities. But I was acutely aware of the melancholy and wistfulness that hung in the air as I walked out of many patients’ homes.
Dismayed at the lack of family visits in some and aware in others of the family caregivers who were doomed to remember this holiday time with a stab in their hearts come next year, thinking back to their loved one’s final days that were punctuated with confusion and sadness. Meals planned with great care, festooned hearths and handmade cards (so many manifestations of holidays- those days set apart from the everyday)-but for some it would be more accurate to coin that term “Hellidays”.
The past month of special days and events seemed to sum up the neglected relationships, the hurts that go unforgiven, and the busy lives that have marginalized those who are shut-in and diminished from their younger, active selves. I often didn’t know their history, but I saw the result of some life choices, patients sitting alone in their homes during the holidays.
I read this morning about a new device, “telehealth for seniors” that has been developed “that allows families and other caregivers to monitor the movements of older relatives”. For example, sensors located on pill dispensers can track if the elderly person is taking their medication on schedule; and door sensors indicate if the elderly person is staying active; one on the refrigerator for ensuring they are eating regularly… All this by a wireless data connection in the home! And a quote by the company, “It’s a huge step forward to be able to put a device in their house that isn’t dependent on any kind of local access.” So now, come to think of it, when the holidays roll around, Dad can be checked on by the internet, and ensured that he is eating and moving about, without having to make a visit.
After all, a visit necessitates dealing with issues that are difficult. Now that, my friends, must be considered progress in the making. Since the holidays have such bittersweet memories for many of us, and the relationships that have been marred by years of collected small and large offences remain unresolved still; this time of year, the easiest way to remedy that gnawing sense of guilt or awareness of unfinished business, might be to connect the old people to sensors…yeah, they are eating, they are opening their doors, taking their pills. What do we need to worry about?
I have been reminded all month of what is taken for granted. Health and family, things we cannot buy for each other. I was asked a question: If it was all stripped away, and I lost every bit of money and stuff I have collected in my life, what one thing would be most important to me?
The one word unbidden that came to mind was family.
Whatever that means to you, remember to spend time NOW with the people that you love, and that love you, with less judgment and self-indulgence, forgiving the offences and forgetting the resentments and take more time…for in the end, we cannot recapture the days and months and years that go unheeded, and those relationships will only be memories. My new year’s resolution: forgive much, love immensely, and live ecstatically.