Christmas this year

For the past umpteen years, my family and I have spent every Christmas bar one with my widowed mother, sister and brother. Sometimes we went away together, as we did one year to Sweden; at other times, we spent Christmas at our house. On the occasions that we were invited to my in-laws, my mother, sister and brother were always invited too. One thing we never did however, was to spend Christmas at my sister’s house, where Mum and my brother also live. We never celebrated Christmas there because my sister’s bungalow is a little on the small side for seven people and a dog or two to fit comfortably.

Our giant breed dogs do take up rather a lot of space, and between them would probably take up most if not all of the floor space in my sister’s living room!

However, spending Christmas together this year will see a significant change of venue. Mum is now unable to travel far because of the debilitating effects she suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. For someone who held together the different strands of her family as we were growing up, she is now the victim of brain storms which deplete her precious store of brain cells. The stress of travelling seems to induce the onset of these brain storms, so this year we are going to hold our Christmas get together at her house instead.

Alzheimer’s is a horrendous disease that robs a person not just of his or her health but also of his or her personality. Our gregarious mother is now unable to express herself adequately although she is still talkative, having lost much of her vocabulary through Alzheimer’s over the past years. She is unable to count, read or write. She cannot tell the time. Mum was a highly regarded teacher and had a passion for reading. Thus her descent into illiteracy is particularly cruel.

However, our family has an unspoken motto in tragic circumstances such as this: ‘Either we laugh or we cry’. Thus we will enjoy Christmas together, ensuring that Mum enjoys herself as we celebrate the Lord’s birth on 25th December. Mum will not recognise any of us, but she will enjoy the laughter and food we share. She will be unable to carry on a proper conversation with any one of us, but we will still try to engage with her. Last year, she had an imaginary friend to whom she spoke continuously for hours on end. I do not know if this ‘friend’ will still be in existence this year.

We will have another difference to occupy us this year – the food. Hubby normally cooks up a storm in the kitchen on Christmas Day, with turkey and all the trimmings. Meanwhile, Sis would make a lemon meringue pie by hand and perhaps another cake, to keep company with Hubby’s yummy trifle. But this year, all the males in the family want goose rather than turkey for Christmas. This is fortuitous as Sis has a Rayburn and I doubt a turkey would fit into the oven!

Unfortunately, none of us knows how to cook goose. So, if any of you reading this blog has a good recipe, do please share it. It will be interesting when we come to buy the Christmas goose. We have no idea of what to look for in a goose, how big a goose to buy in terms of portion size, how to make a gravy or sauce for the goose, and what condiments and vegetables would go best with it. I have never tasted goose, so I don’t even know whether I will like it.

The true meaning of Christmas. (Photo courtesy of www.catholicsupply.com.)

Thus Christmas will be different this year in more ways than one. My hope is that Mum will still be able to live in the moment, enjoying the camaraderie of her closest and dearest as we celebrate Christ’s birth and thereby His promise of salvation. There will be a bittersweet quality to our time together as we will inevitably reflect on the fact that year on year since the onset of early dementia, Mum was has become less and less compos mentis and more and more unable to interact meaningfully with her own family. Nonetheless, we thank God that Mum is still with us, and despite her Alzheimer’s, is in all other respects well for her age.

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