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When Holidays Hurt Most: Remembering Loved Ones Lost to Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Mother’s Day of 2017 was a bittersweet day for me. It marked the passing of my beloved grandmother, who succumbed to lung cancer. She also had long battle with dementia. While her physical absence is a constant ache, it’s during the holidays that the void she left feels most profound.

My grandma was my biggest cheerleader growing up, a constant source of love and support. As I matured, dementia began to cast a shadow over our relationship. Misunderstandings and frustration became frequent visitors, fueled by my ignorance about the disease.

I vividly recall the sting of her forgotten conversations and the accusations that I hadn’t shared my plans with her. The anger I felt would linger for days, while her memory of the disagreement would vanish within hours. Then came the inevitable question, “Why aren’t you talking to me?” It was a painful cycle.

Losing her to lung cancer on May 14th, 2017, was devastating. As time has passed, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of dementia and the toll it takes on both the individual and their loved ones. The anger has faded, replaced by regret for the moments lost to misunderstanding.

Holidays have become particularly poignant reminders of her absence. The traditions we once shared, the laughter that filled the room – those memories now carry a bittersweet tinge. It’s during these times that I miss her most acutely, longing for one more conversation, one more hug.

I’m not alone in this experience. Countless families grapple with the loss of loved ones to Alzheimer’s and dementia, and the holiday season can be a particularly difficult time. The festive atmosphere can amplify the sense of loss, making the absence of our loved ones even more palpable.

If you’re navigating the holidays after losing someone to dementia, know that you’re not alone. There’s a community of people who understand the unique pain you’re experiencing. Seek out support groups or online forums where you can share your feelings and find solace in the company of others who have walked a similar path.

Here are some tips that may help you cope during the holidays:

  • Acknowledge your feelings. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, or frustrated. Allow yourself to grieve in your own way and time.

  • Honor their memory. Find ways to incorporate their memory into your holiday celebrations. Light a candle, share a favorite story, or simply take a moment to reflect on the joy they brought to your life.

  • Create new traditions. As painful as it may be, consider starting new traditions that honor your loved one while acknowledging the changes in your family dynamic.

  • Reach out for support. Talk to a friend, family member, therapist, or support group. Sharing your feelings can be incredibly cathartic.

The holidays may never be the same after losing a loved one to dementia, but with time and support, you can find ways to navigate the season with grace and create new memories that honor their legacy.