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The Holidays Can Be Bittersweet

The Holidays Can Be Bittersweet

Greetings one and all…

It is a glorious afternoon in the Rocky Mountains. Sunshine and blue skies. Just in from a walk with my pups. Hard to believe we are knee-deep in the holiday season. But, we are. And because of that, the pace of every day is a bit faster. There is SO much to do. And, there is so much to FEEL as well. Holidays prompt us to remember holidays past while anticipating the holiday present. Depending on your situation, the contrast between past and present can trigger a flood of emotions—some sweet and some bitter. For most of us, the holidays are a mix of both. Bittersweet.

I met a woman several weeks ago at a community presentation. She is caring for her mother who is terminally ill. As we chatted about the holiday season, she made the comment, “This is probably the last Christmas I’ll share with my mother. So, I want to make it THE best one yet. And I want to remember every moment.” Her words unleashed a myriad of memories for me as I had uttered those same words over 40 years ago when caring for my mother. After a diagnosis of terminal breast cancer, my mom lived to enjoy 7 more holiday seasons. With each holiday, I felt pressured to ensure it was THE best while attempting to etch every scene into my heart and soul for future reflection…just in case Mom didn’t live to enjoy another holiday season.

Looking back, I realize that the last few holidays with Mom were bittersweet because my attention was split between Christmas past, present, and future. I longed for the innocence of my youth – the time before cancer entered our lives. I feared the first Christmas I would endure without Mom at some point in time. Consequently, my grief over what had already been lost and what I anticipated losing in the future compromised the sweetness of Christmas present. Christmas present was bittersweet.

Since Mom died, I have enjoyed 37 holidays to a greater or lesser extent. For me, the reality is that the holidays are by their very nature bittersweet. Although I would love to focus solely on the JOY of the moment – the sweetness of the holidays – the memories of holidays past bubble up periodically. I miss those I loved who are no longer here to share the JOY of the moment. And, as I share holidays with beloved friends this year, I know there is no guarantee that any of us will be here next year. Such is the nature of life. We are challenged to hold two contradictory emotions in tension and somehow find a balance that serves us well.

Although I love sweet things, I have developed a taste for the bittersweet things in life over the years. I can’t imagine NOT remembering my family members and dear friends who are not here to celebrate the holidays this year. My memories are not only a source of sadness but also happiness, gratitude, love, humor, inspiration, and JOY! What a blessing – something I hold near and dear to my heart.

So, consider this. Are there any moments in life that are NOT bittersweet? I think not. As human beings, we are a mix of our past, present, and future. So it is difficult – if not impossible – to be totally focused on the sweetness of the moment. Other flavors get mixed in from our memories or future expectations. But that doesn’t make the NOW any less special. In fact, perhaps it makes RIGHT NOW even more precious because we know how quickly life can change.

Consequently, we are wise to have realistic expectations of the holiday season. Bittersweet is the seasonal flavor. Knowing that going in allows us to make the most of the holidays and ultimately of life. Perhaps that holiday realization is the greatest gift of the season.

I look forward to the ongoing conversation. If you have specific questions or concerns related to your caregiving experience, I would love to hear from you. Until the next posting, I wish you and yours countless blessings…jane  

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