How to survive a chronically ill Christmas

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For many of us Christmas is a time of excitement and celebration, but for those living with a chronic condition it can be challenging – both physically and emotionally. If you have a friend or family member who has a chronic illness, there are some very simple things you can do to help them over the festive period that can make a big difference….

  1. Going Out
    Don’t expect them to go to every party, family gathering and drinks with friends. Remember: just because they did it today doesn’t mean they can do it tomorrow. Space out social gatherings or suggest quieter venues. Ask them what they can and can’t have at social gatherings.
  2. Offer to help with Christmas preparations
    Preparing for Christmas Day can be stressful for the most of us, whether it’s buying presents, visiting family or simply managing expectations, but for those with a chronic illness it can be overwhelming. Offer help. Sit and down and work out what really needs to be done and what is achievable. However don’t take over and do it all. You might think you are helping but in reality, this might leave your loved one or friend feeling left out and inadequate.
  3. Spend time with them over the festive season
    People with chronic illnesses often do not tell their doctor or healthcare professional that they are struggling with their mental health. It can be very hard to distinguish between a symptom of their physical illness and what is potentially depression. Being there for them creates a support network which makes them feel cared for.
  4. Offer to bring a dish over
    Because someone with a chronic illness can tire more easily, offering to prepare them a meal can go a long way.
  5. Check they have enough medication over the festive season
    Over the festive season, shops will be shut and medical services limited. Make sure that someone with a chronic illness has enough medication to last over Christmas and into the New Year.
  6. Don’t forget that everyone has different needs
    Our needs are very individual and unless you know someone very well, it’s probably better to firstly let them know that you would like to do something that will help them and listen to what they suggest.
  7. Ask them how they are and listen… really listen!
    Someone may look or appear well, but that doesn’t mean they’re feeling okay. Giving someone a chance to talk about how they feel could make their day better and make sure they feel supported.

Do you know someone who is spending Christmas on their own due to their illness? Invite them over even if it’s just for a cup of tea. People with depression, mental health issues and anxiety are often forgotten. If they aren’t up for a visit, give them a call…

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When Christmas is difficult…

Lonely Christmas

No matter where you find yourself in the world during the month of December, there’s never any escaping Christmas expectations. Seasonally, this is supposed to be a time for family and loved ones – and we’re constantly reminded of how we should be celebrating, through films, adverts and songs on the radio. But for those of us facing a difficult Christmas this year, that’s the last thing we want to be reminded of…

There is a number of reasons why many people find Christmas season very difficult including death in the family, loss of a job, loss of a marriage or relationship, financial collapse, loneliness, depression, or family problems.  A study into festive despondency by psychiatric healthcare facility Florida House found that 29 per cent of people feel depressed at Christmas because it reminds them that they don’t have anyone to share it with. Meanwhile, for 69 per cent it simply makes them realise how broke they are…

Are you facing a difficult Christmas season? Are you overly stressing about what needs to be done or the upcoming family gathering?  Are you isolating yourself from all of it and everyone?

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So, if you are feeling like the only person in the world who is not filled with festive joy, how can you make it through Christmas?

  1. Keep things simple. Keep your schedule simple. Keep your commitments simple. Don’t be afraid to say “no.”
  2. Balance alone-time and time with others. Don’t isolate. Isolating will only make things worse.
  3. Talk about the issues with someone who is safe. Talk about why it’s a difficult Christmas, but don’t ruminate about it. Identify the pain and work through it.
  4. Do self-nurture. Take time to de-stress. Find gifts for yourself, pamper yourself, go for a long walk, read a book and wear your pyjamas all day if you want to.
  5. Give something back. Christmas is a great time to volunteer and there are always people who need assistance; helping out at your local Church or charity car boot sale is a great place to start.
  6. Lower your expectations. In fact, try to have no expectations. Too often we have too high of expectations, and the disappointment that follows when those expectations are not met will only add to one’s pain.
  7. Ignore the media. The schmaltzy ads and poignant songs can bring back many memories. At times this may feel overwhelming and trigger some pretty intense emotions. (This is totally OK). But when things get too much, it’s a good idea to mute those telly ads, switch off the car radio and completely disconnect from social media. And if you still need an escape, consider celebrating Christmas somewhere where you won’t be reminded so much of home or the person you miss…

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The boy at Christ’s Christmas Party

from “A writer’s Diary”
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
(January 1876)

( Photo by Lena Bu)

      I

In a large city, on Christmas eve in the biting cold, I see a young child, still quite young, six years old, perhaps even less; yet too young to be sent on the street begging, but assuredly destined to be sent in a year or two.

This child awakes one morning in a damp and frosty cellar. He is wrapped in a kind of squalid dressing-gown and is shivering. His breath issues from between his lips in white vapor; he is seated on a trunk; to pass the time he blows the breath from his mouth, and amuses himself in seeing it escape. But he is very hungry. Several times since morning he has drawn near the bed covered with a straw mattress as thin as gauze, where his mother lies sick, her head resting on a bundle of rags instead of a pillow.

How did she come there? She came probably from a strange city and has fallen ill. The proprietress of the miserable lodging was arrested two days ago, and carried to the police station; it is a holiday to-day, and the other tenants have gone out. However, one of them has remained in bed for the last twenty-four hours, stupid with drink, not having waited for the holiday.

From another corner issue the complaints of an old woman of eighty years, laid up with rheumatism. This old woman was formerly a children’s nurse somewhere; now she is dying all alone. She whines, moans, and growls at the little boy, who begins to be afraid to come near the corner where she lies with the death rattle in her throat. He has found something to drink in the hallway, but he has not been able to lay his hand on the smallest crust of bread, and for the tenth time he comes to wake his mother. He finishes by getting frightened in this darkness.

The evening is already late, and no one comes to kindle the fire. He finds, by feeling around, his mother’s face, and is astonished that she no longer moves and that she has become as cold as the wall.

“It is so cold!” he thinks.

He remains some time without moving, his hand resting on the shoulder of the corpse. Then he begins to blow in his fingers to warm them, and, happening to find his little cap on the bed, he looks softly for the door, and issues forth from the underground lodging.

He would have gone out sooner had he not been afraid of the big dog that barks all the day up there on the landing before their neighbor’s door.

Oh! what a city! never before had he seen anything like it. Down yonder from where he came, the nights are much darker. There is only one lamp for the whole street; little low wooden houses, closed with shutters; in the street from the time it grows dark, no one; every one shut up at home: only a crowd of dogs that howl, hundreds, thousands of dogs, that howl and bark all the night. But then, it used to be so warm there! And he got something to eat. Here, ah! how good it would be to have something to eat! What a noise here, what an uproar! What a great light, and what a crowd of people! What horses, and what carriages! And the cold, the cold! The bodies of the tired horses smoke with frost and their burning nostrils puff white clouds; their shoes ring on the pavement through the soft snow. And how every body hustles every body else! “Ah! how I would like to eat a little piece of something. That is what makes my fingers ache so.”

II

A policeman just passes by, and turns his head so as not to see the child.

“Here is another street. Oh! how wide it is! I shall be crushed to death here, I know; how they all shout, how they run, how they roll along! And the light, and the light! And that, what is that? Oh! what a big window pane! And behind the pane, a room, and in the room a tree that goes up to the ceiling; it is the Christmas tree. And what lights under the tree! Such papers of gold, and such apples! And all around dolls and little hobby-horses. There are little children well-dressed, nice, and clean; they are laughing and playing, eating and drinking things. There is a little girl going to dance with the little boy. How pretty she is! And there is music. I can hear it through the glass.”

The child looks, admires, and even laughs. He feels no longer any pain in his fingers or feet. The fingers of his hand have become all red, he cannot bend them any more, and it hurts him to move them. But all at once, he feels that his fingers ache; he begins to cry, and goes away. He perceives through another window another room, and again trees and cakes of all sorts on the table, red almonds and yellow ones. Four beautiful ladies are sitting down, and when any body comes he is given some cake: and the door opens every minute, and many gentlemen enter. The little fellow crept forward, opened the door of a sudden, and went in. Oh! what a noise was made when they saw him, what confusion! Immediately a lady arose, put a kopeck in his hand, and opened herself the street door for him. How frightened he was!

III

The kopeck has fallen from his hands, and rings on the steps of the stairs. He was not able to tighten his little fingers enough to hold the coin. The child went out running, and walked fast, fast. Where was he going? He did not know. And he runs, runs, and blows in his hands. He is troubled. He feels so lonely, so frightened! And suddenly, what is that again! A crowd of people stand there and admire.

“A window! behind the pane, three pretty dolls attired in wee red and yellow dresses, and just exactly as though they were alive! And that little old man sitting down, who seems to play the fiddle. There are two others, too, standing up, who play on tiny violins, keeping time with their heads to the music. They look at each other and their lips move. And they really speak? Only they cannot be heard through the glass.”

And the child first thinks that they are living, and when he comprehends that they are only dolls, he begins to laugh. Never had he seen such dolls before, and he didn’t know that there were any like that! He would like to cry, but those dolls are just too funny!

IV

Suddenly he feels himself seized by the coat. A big rough boy stands near him, who gives him a blow of his fist on the head, snatches his cap, and trips him up.

The child falls. At the same time there is a shout; he remains a moment paralyzed with fear. Then he springs up with a bound and runs, runs, darts under a gateway somewhere and hides himself in a court-yard behind a pile of wood. He cowers and shivers in his fright; he can hardly breathe.

And suddenly he feels quite comfortable. His little hands and feet don’t hurt any more; he is warm, warm as though near a stove, and all his body trembles.

“Ah! I am going asleep! how nice it is to have a sleep! I shall stay a little while and then I will go and see the dolls again,” thought the little fellow, and he smiled at the recollection of the dolls. “They looked just as though they were alive!”

Then he hears his mother’s song. “Mamma, I am going to sleep. Ah! how nice it is here for sleeping!”

“Come to my house, little boy, to see the Christmas tree,” said a soft voice.

He thought at first it was his mother; but no, it was not she.

Then who is calling him? He does not see. But some one stoops over him, and folds him in his arms in the darkness: and he stretches out his hand and–all at once–oh! what light! Oh! what a Christmas tree! No, it is not a Christmas tree; he has never seen the like of it!

Where is he now? All is resplendent, all is radiant, and dolls all around; but no, not dolls, little boys, little girls; only they are very bright. All of them circle round him; they fly. They hug him, they take him and carry him away, and he is flying too. And he sees his mother looking at him and laughing joyfully.

“Mamma! mamma! ah! how nice it is here!” cries her little boy to her.

And again he embraces the children, and would like very much to tell them about the dolls behind the window pane. “Who are you, little girls?” he asks, laughing and fondling them.

It is the Christmas tree at Jesus’s.

At Jesus’s, that day, there is always a Christmas tree for little children that have none themselves.

And he learned that all these little boys and girls were children like himself, who had died like him. Some had died of cold in the baskets abandoned at the doors of the public functionaries of St. Petersburg; others had died out at nurse in the foul hovels of the Tchaukhnas; others of hunger at the dry breasts of their mothers during the famine. All were here now, all little angels now, all with Jesus, and He Himself among them, spreading his hands over them, blessing them and their sinful mothers.

And the mothers of these children are there too, apart, weeping; each recognizes her son or her daughter, and the children fly towards them, embrace them, wipe away the tears with their little hands, and beg them not to weep.

And below on the earth, the concierge in the morning found the wee corpse of the child, who had taken refuge in the courtyard. Stiff and frozen behind the pile of wood it lay.

The mother was found too. She died before him; both are reunited in Heaven in the Lord’s house.

THE END

( Photo by Jesus.loves.you)