2018 ? Seriously ?

Time has once again flipped through another calendar. Welcome to 2018 !

Since this is January 2, and I’m sure you have many things to do – I’ll keep this post brief.

Welcome to a new year. On January 9, we’ll resume our regular posts and find Hope for the next calendar pages.

Thanks for joining me here.

2018 image

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Hope Versus Holiday Grief

The colorful lights, packages wrapped with beautiful bows, Santa’s lap filled with happy children, the music of the season: all these joys spell Christmas.christmas candle

But what if we’re smack in the middle of grief this December? What if some of the joy is colored by sadness? How do we find hope when we so desperately need it?

While I raked dead leaves, three hope-filled possibilities floated through my brain.

Keep the Traditions. Did she make a certain type of pie or a specialty casserole? Make it yourself and remember what a great cook she was.

Did he string the lights on the tree? As you string them alone this Christmas, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed and reflected love throughout the room.

Did the family always meet at Grandma’s house but now Grandma isn’t there and the house has been sold? Meet where you can and talk about her house. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of past Christmases alive and special.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend. That event did not happen this year, and I felt the loss so deeply.

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was. Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone – start with a chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast Deb with some egg nog.

Fill the Empty Chair. Nothing is more discouraging than that empty chair at the table. It’s a reminder of loss – a visual of who is missing.

Instead of staring at the emptiness, fill the chair with another person:

  • An international student who is homesick and cannot fly hundreds of miles for the holidays
  • A single mom who is bereft of her children because it’s his turn to share them with his family
  • A homeless person who needs to feel the warmth of a home and experience a full belly
  • A young parolee who needs to understand that grace means second chances
  • Anyone you know who might be alone during the holidays

As we fill the empty chair with another living being, it reminds us life DOES go forward. We don’t have to be stuck within the grief of Christmas past.

Give Thanks for Memories. We shared many holidays with that special person. We may even still have some of the gifts s/he gave us – precious reminders. Wear that sweater she knitted just for you. Dab on that perfume he gave you. Clasp the necklace or play the CD.

Remember and give thanks. That person represents a unique place in your journey: spouse, parent, sibling, friend. No one can ever replace her or him.

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again – the way he tilted his head when he talked, her unique laughter.

When Deb enjoyed a specially tasty meal, she always said “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

Although this holiday may seem especially empty for you and the grief even more fresh than before – keep the traditions, fill the empty chair and give thanks for the memories.

Then remember your loved one is celebrating Christmas in heaven and probably thinking about you.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Fills the White Stocking

Have you heard the legend of the White Stocking?white stocking

This tradition was begun by a mother who realized her family was so consumed by the trappings and gifts of Christmas, they had forgotten the true meaning of the celebration. She wrote a poem, outlining her plans for Christmas morning.

The white stocking hung throughout the season, empty, yet in a special place on the mantel. Then on Christmas morning, everyone in the family received a piece of paper.

On the paper, they wrote a gift they wanted to give Jesus. Then they placed their papers in the stocking. It was a practical and visual way to remember the meaning of the season.

What can I give the King of kings this Christmas season?

It would be easy to list the usual Sunday School answers:

  • I’ll give him my heart
  • my ten per cent tithe
  • make him the Lord of my life
  • give him all my worship

While these answers may come from a pure heart, they lose their credibility in the repetition. I want to be more specific – to make myself accountable to this idea and perhaps check myself throughout 2018.

To be entirely credible, I decided to ask the Lord what he wanted from me. He has everything he needs, and he knows me better than anyone else – this One who fashioned me in my mother’s womb, then held me in his arms after I slithered from her body.

This One who has held me through this difficult year, over mountains of joy and within deepest pits of emotional valleys. What does he want from me?

As I reflected on 2017, one common attitude presented itself in a taupe ugliness: I have spent a great deal of this year wishing life could be different. Like a wimp, I have whined in my journals and on this blog.

When I asked Jesus what he wanted for Christmas, he nudged me toward my complaints and gently reminded me of all the things I should be grateful for.

I enjoy my work – writing and coaching writers – watching my clients reach their goals and celebrating with them.

Although I am tired of maintaining a house and the gardens have nearly done me in this year, I CAN still work in the gardens, planting and harvesting – eating from the produce God blesses.

In my house, I CAN still bend over carpet stains and rub them into oblivion, climb steps up and down – four levels – and climb on top of my car to change the bulb in the garage light.

Although I no longer play competitive softball or run up and down a basketball court, I CAN stretch in yoga poses and pump away calories on my exercise bike.

Although I tire of counting pennies and searching for coupons, trying to find the best deals – I CAN pay the bills. So far, my son and I have not starved.

We cannot expect life to be easy here on earth. The only way we reach the goal of the heavenly prize is to go through the hard stuff, to endure and persevere.

This year my white stocking will hold only three words – a gift I am going to be more intentional to give the baby in the manger who became the savior on the cross.

I hold out this gift to him because he deserves it. This gift also represents my hope that he will receive it with joy, understanding I am still flawed but trying, love me for my attempts to please him and to live my life with honor.

What gift will I give Jesus this Christmas? What shall I place in the white stocking?

“Thank you, Jesus.”

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

 

7 Holiday Tips for Alzheimers Caregivers

How can we help the Alzheimer’s loved one survive the holidays? Alz awareness

As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be grateful for another year – we also have to remember how stressful this time can be – especially for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

These seven tips can help as we move into the holidays:

Don’t expect a dementia or Alzheimer’s loved one to make any food.

One year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom tried to figure out a recipe so she would feel like she was part of the festivities.

But as we watched her struggle to find pots and pans, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad – hundreds of times over – we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.

Even if she has a favorite recipe and everyone still enjoys her marshmallow salad or her pecan pie, relieving her of the stress can be a gift.

If your loved one wants to shop for gifts, plan ahead for this adventure.

Be prepared with a list and know the easiest way to move in and out of the stores. Forget about Black Friday shopping – too many people, too much noise and parking places are limited.

Be patient, take plenty of time and be prepared to answer lots of questions. If possible, buy everything in one store. Then go home.

Better yet, sit down with a laptop and show your loved one the pictures. Then order everything online.

Include some of your loved ones’ favorite foods.

Even though her appetite is changing, Mom will crave a piece of pecan pie. So one of my holiday duties is to buy a pre-made pecan pie. I recommend the pies in the frozen section at Target.

When we first walk into the farm kitchen, Mom’s eyes always go to the dessert table. She may not say anything, but I know what she’s looking for. “I brought your pecan pie, Mom, and the first piece goes to you.” Then I dress it with a generous dollop of Cool Whip.

Every year, Mom says, “I DO love pecan pie.” I dread the day when she forgets how to say this one, grateful sentence.

Plan an activity together, such as looking through Christmas cards.

Although sending Christmas cards is becoming one of those traditions celebrated in the past, my mother’s demographic considered it a holiday courtesy. She loves receiving her cards.

Remind your loved one who the senders are or tell a favorite story about the person behind the return address.

Be prepared to look at the cards several times during the holidays and tell the same stories. That’s okay. It’s part of the Alzheimer’s process, and someday – you’ll be glad you did this activity together.

If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, be sure to check back in before dark.

Driving through beautifully-lit neighborhoods was once a favorite activity. But this idea depends on the stage of Alzheimer’s where your loved one exists.

Mom feels uncomfortable in the dark. Looking at the lights is no longer one of our seasonal pleasures.

As the sun sets, Alzheimer’s patients often experience Sundowner’s Syndrome. They may pace, say the same words over and over and exhibit anxiety. They feel safer in their rooms before dark, so make sure you time your meals and your activities accordingly.

If you are traveling for the holidays, it is not a good idea to include your Alzheimer’s loved one.

Although we all want to be together during the holidays, that pleasure becomes less and less tangible. Traveling out of their comfort zones is difficult for Alzheimer’s patients: several hours cramped in a car or a plane, strangers, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, different types of foods and smells.

It makes more sense to hire a caregiver and let your loved one stay home while you join the rest of the family.

Avoid the false guilt that says you cannot leave for a day or two. Yes, you can. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to make it through the marathon of caregiving. So take a break and spend time with your family.

What should you buy the Alzheimer’s patient?

None of us needs more junk, least of all an Alzheimer’s patient living in a studio apartment at assisted living. Keep it simple.

Try these suggestions: a stuffed animal, a baby doll (especially for the women), a pretty picture for the room, a photo of family members with their childhood pictures inserted next to the adult photos, a favorite piece of candy, a comfortable sweater.

One Christmas, I gave Mom a wooden cross, made in New Mexico, and a bag of her favorite Lifesaver™ mints. She seemed most excited about the mints although the cross is a nice adornment on her wall.

This year I’m giving Mom a hug and a kiss – if she lets me. She no longer knows who I am. Receiving affection from a “stranger” can feel scary for an Alzheimer’s patient. So I may just hold her hand and say, “Merry Christmas, Mom. I love you.”

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you need some extra help with caregiving during the holidays, check out my book, “Sometimes They Forget.”

 

 

Hope Embraces Gratitude

Two thoughts swirl through my brain this November of 2017: the rapid ending of another year and the Thanksgiving season.Thanksgiving

How can I find hope and share it as the calendar ends?

In retrospect, 2017 was not a favorite year. Too many life-changing moments. Emotional whiplash.

Yet gratitude simmers in three areas, ironically each beginning with the letter “F”:

Family – We meet with families during the holiday season – for better or for worse. Some families struggle through dysfunctions while others deal with the stress through avoidance. Yet having a family can be a definite blessing.

My concept of family expanded this year. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a family to support that child – even as she ages.

My blood relatives visited in October, a rare and delightful event. My son continues to provide support, manly hugs and a companion when cheering for the Jayhawks. He is also my resident IT guy who keeps me from gnashing my teeth when the internet rebels.

Deb’s relatives became family as we bonded during those traumatic days in the ICU. I watched her children rally together and care for their mother – such a touching tableau of love. They included me in final days and in honoring their mother at her memorial service. We became family in the tragedy and grow closer as we share our grieving process.

My extended family of writers, clients, friends – all of them vital for building my hope. Without these connections, I would not grow as a person, could not feel empowered for living.

Followers  – You are often strangers, yet by your support of this blog, we become familiar. You help me grow a brand and encourage me with your comments.

When a new follower joins my tribe, the message of hope expands to another corner of cyberspace. Hopefully, these words also expand to warm your hearts and invite you to a place of joyful camaraderie.

As a blogger, I am grateful for each follower and take seriously the commitment to post each week – to invite you to find hope with me.

Faith – To be honest, the events of this year have rocked my world. Resigning from full-time ministry, then losing Deb has shaken my spiritual moorings. This emotional tsunami is a common side effect of grief. At some point, we all cry out, “Why God? Why?”

Yet my fictional character, Reverend G, reminds us the question may be “Why?” but the answer is “Who.”

Even when I cannot pray the divine One prays for me. Even when I feel shaky, it is not MY belief that is important but rather the truth that God Himself will not let me go.

At the beginning of 2017, God promised to uphold me. In those frosty January days, I had no idea what that promise would mean nor how tightly I would cling to it. But now I know. This year is measured not so much by what has happened as by Who upheld me through those happenings.

So as I close out November of 2017, I am grateful for these three entities: Family, Followers and Faith. Each has increased my capacity for hope. All have added value to my days.

May your Thanksgiving season also expand into grateful expressions of hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Would you like to bless an author for Christmas? Check out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Keeps It Simple

Because this year has taught me more about a simplified life, I have decided to merge this premise into my holidays celebrations. What used to be a November and December filled with activities and the traditional holiday set-ups, I have now prefaced with the following questions:white-stocking

  • How can I simplify the holidays?
  • What gives me the most joy about Thanksgiving and Christmas?
  • Why is a simpler celebration important?

So, I am making the following changes:

Christmas Cards

Although I love to send greeting cards throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing almost 100 Christmas cards has become overkill. I hereby simplify the process.

If you are a reader who regularly receives a Christmas card from me – be forewarned. Yes, I still think you are important and a valued person in my life. However, I’m setting a card boundary and you may be deleted from my list. A few people may receive a card, but even those will be rare. This year, I am saving time, money and energy.

If you really need a greeting, here it is: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Holiday Treats

In the past, I have baked and frosted special treats for my neighbors, the postman, people at work and anyone else in my life who did not receive a store-bought gift.

The temptation of cookie dough in my large pottery bowl and the smell of rising breads no longer attract me. This year, my kitchen table will not be spread with powdered sugar treats aka People Puppy Chow. My body will thank me, because I usually eat half of them. I vow to protect my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar. Not even the traditional peppernut recipe tempts me.

I am setting a culinary boundary.

Holiday Decorations

My house has often sported decorations in every room. Walking through Pier One, Hallmark stores or Kirkland during this time of the year gives me joy.

But since a stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my habits.

Compared to other years, the mantel will seem sparse. My theme is pine cones which remind me of the New Mexico mountains. Simple yet beautiful—a display of God’s creation accented with little pearl lights.

Many former decorations, I will give away. It feels good to share with someone else the beauty of my past. My little tree with its tiny pre-lit globes still works. When it fails, I will throw it away and buy one of those tiny table Christmas trees. No need to vacuum fallen needles or wrestle with smashing the tree into the box on New Year’s Day.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it.

The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I have fun planning gifts for my son. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The holiday surprise of 2017 has been the joy all this simplifying brings. More room on my storage shelves with less stuff to store. More space in each room. More things to give away and share with someone else.

When I surround myself ONLY with the things that bring me joy, the essential leftovers offer pleasure. And in the choice to simplify my holidays, joy follows into the new year.

A toast of eggnog to all my followers. Enjoy your version of the holidays and let me know in the comments how you will celebrate.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to share a Christmas gift with me, check out my Author Page on Amazon. The purchase of a book or a written review is always appreciated.