(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire!)
So far, this holiday season has brought a whirlwind road trip to see my family over Thanksgiving weekend, an emergency surgery for my Dad, a root canal for my boyfriend, and an announcement from my eighty-nine-year-old Grandma that my Grandfather was a wonderful lover. And it is not even Christmas week yet.
I took a road trip to my hometown over Thanksgiving weekend and had the chance to visit with my parents, brother and sister-in-law, aunts and uncles and all their dogs. They met and, much to my relief, adored my boyfriend. We talked politics and stress, and shared funny stories; our conversations intertwining as we tried to cram a year of catching up into a day and a half.
The trip was over almost as soon as it began, but I left knowing that I would be back for Christmas with my Grandma. It is a rare treat for me to be so surrounded by my family during the holiday season.
This year, my holidays are full of love and chaos and frenzied activity, but I haven’t always been so lucky. Often enough, this was the hardest and loneliest season for me. Years ago, when I was in the grips of my addiction, I was incapable of being present. Even when I was there physically, my shame, self-loathing and copious amounts of cheap vodka kept me from appreciating any part of it. I was in no way truly engaged and felt completely alone in a room filled with people. I have fared much better these years in recovery. My life is every bit as rich with friendship as my pockets are poor with money. That being said, my career is in a field that requires us to work on holidays. People don’t stop needing care just because it is Christmas. I have had my share of years pining for the days when I could wake up knowing that the day would be filled with visiting loved ones instead of punching the clock…but then I would look at those in my care. Many of them had out lived their family. One Christmas, I spent half the shift looking for an invisible dog to calm a ninety-eight-year-old woman living with dementia. Others had been abandoned for all intents and purposes. I cared for one gentleman who spent every afternoon staring out the window wistfully, certain that that was the day his family would finally be picking him up. The holidays were especially difficult for him. Having the opportunity to spend the holidays with them gave me a deeper appreciation and greater insight into what the season truly meant for me.
The holiday season has many faces, despite what the made for TV movies would have you believe. Some years, they are joyous. Some years, they can be heart breaking. On my lonelier years, the idea that I was “supposed” to be cheerful made me feel guilty because I couldn’t quite muster it. So, if you’re reading this and having a tough year, that is okay. It is okay to feel sad or lonely or frustrated. There is no “right” way to feel. It will pass and there will be good years ahead. For those of us lucky enough to be around loved ones this year, let’s remember the times we had our own struggles during the holidays, reach out to those who may not be feeling loved and surround them in the spirit that this season is all about. And if, like me, you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, just think! In less than two months, it will be Groundhog’s day.
Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care.