Our holiday tradition always included making gingerbread houses. 

My husband, Don, and I would invite over a couple of our grandchildren, and we would build houses and gobble sweets. Really, the grandkids and I would sneak bites, while Don would tease us about it. 

This didn’t change after he had a stroke and became paralyzed from the neck down. The happy joy of gingerbread houses remained a part of our lives. In fact, the tradition became even more important. Leaving the house was a challenge for Don with his requisite medical gear, including a respirator so he could breathe. Finding something fun to do with our grandkids could be tricky, but gingerbread houses worked every time. 

Because we had 9 grandkids, we didn’t just build gingerbread houses once over the holidays. We did it three or four times every year with maybe one or two kids each time. One year, one grandchild ate the chimney before we could put it on, and Don rolled his eyes at the silliness. Meanwhile, I kept nabbing candies, which didn’t escape Don’s notice. I asked, “Do you think I’ve gained weight this holiday season?” 

Fifteen pounds,” he responded. 

I couldn’t believe he said that, and asked him, “Did you say five pounds?”

No, fifteen,” he answered.

He actually was right on the mark. I couldn’t believe it.

I teased him, “I could unplug you at any minute.” He just laughed.

It might seem a little dark to tease him about unplugging his respirator, but we both had no doubt that it was a joke. It was also an important continuation of our pre-stroke life when we relished teasing each other. Learning how to keep aspects of that old life going was vital in our post-stroke life.It’s easy to let illness overtake things, but what kind of life is that? We wanted the normal joys of life to take precedence over Don’s health issues when at all possible. Teasing was one way to do that; keeping our traditions alive was another. 

If you are looking for ways to bring joy into your own home over the holidays, here are some ideas that worked for us. 

1) Embrace Your Traditions
Whatever your holiday traditions are, don’t let them fall by the wayside because illness has impacted your family. Find ways to continue making the holidays fun. For us, that meant inviting friends to drop by while we were decorating the Christmas tree. We also hosted a Christmas Eve dinner followed by opening presents together. In essence, we jumped at any excuse to get people together over the holidays, and we both treasured those moments of connection.  

2) Get Children Involved
Children can add spice, fun, and chaos to your world, so, if there are children in your orbit, bring them into your caregiving journey. Enlivening an ailing loved one can also help children develop empathy and kindness. Kids also learn about differences from watching an ill or disabled person participate in normal holiday activities. Baking cookies, gift exchanges, and tree decorating can all be fun ways to involve children in the holidays. By providing enjoyable activities for kids, you’ll find that you and your loved have fun too.  

3) Go Into the World
As caregivers, sometimes an outing can be daunting. With my husband, we often had to bring a nurse with us to monitor his respirator, and getting him in and out of his wheelchair for the drive was a project in and of itself. However, if we set aside enough time, trips into the world were a true joy. We would drive around and view the holiday lights or go to the mall to shop and see the festive decor. Once we even spent hours in a huge American Girl store with our granddaughter. We visited the tea room and explored the entire multi-level store. I pushed Don in his wheelchair, while our granddaughter pushed her doll in the stroller. It was a kick. 

Although caregiving has many challenges, one of the biggest may be making certain to hang tight to the joys of life. Those joys are out there, so, if you can, find ways to bring more of them into your life. 

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful and joyful holiday season!   —Kathi Koll

Originally published on TheCaregiversVoice.com.