Staying Strong as a Caregiver: The Year of Firsts

Written by: Courtney Benisch – Regional Relationship Coordinator for Head for the Cure

From the second your loved one gets diagnosed with brain cancer your world is turned upside down. From that point on, your life will be a new kind of “normal.” There are many aspects outside of daily life that will be different; one of them being celebrations and holidays. The first year after your loved one gets diagnosed, you will see these special days in a different way and getting through them is different as well.

When my mom was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma in March of 2016, it was a week before her 50th birthday. We had been planning a surprise party for her, but life had other surprises in store for us. We shifted around a few things, but we were able to have a little party for her in the hospital as she was recovering from surgery and in physical therapy. We still made it a special day, despite the changes in our lives.

We also celebrated my birthday, as well as my stepdad’s, and Thanksgiving when my mom was in treatment. Celebrating these holidays while a loved one is going through a disease like this is hard, but it also makes you look at them with a different perspective. We didn’t know if it was going to be her last few holidays with us, so we made the most of each and every one of them.

The hardest part for my family and I each year is Thanksgiving through Christmas. Those should be the holidays where you are the happiest, but it has been the toughest part of the year for us by far. My mom was in hospice for Thanksgiving and passed a few weeks later on December 10th. We were so thankful we had family come into town that year for Thanksgiving and be by our side for the hardest part of our lives.

Christmas was my mom’s favorite holiday and she decorated our house every year. After her passing, we weren’t sure if we wanted to hang up decorations. It was hard, but we put up the Christmas tree anyways and attempted to make it look like she would have. My brother, stepdad, and I did our best, and I think that was a good starting point in the grief process. It was the first major holiday after her passing, and we got through it together as a family.

The first year after your loved one’s diagnosis or passing is simply put, hard. Especially when it intertwines in the grieving process. For me, I mentally checked each holiday and birthday off a list after my mom passed, and after the first year, I felt like I had a weight off my shoulders. I thought if I can make it through the first year of all these special moments in my life without my mom, I could keep doing it. It makes you stronger as a whole and also makes you lean on your family members more.

Holidays and birthdays have been different since my mom’s passing, but I’m starting new traditions with my family and friends. The celebrations are a little bittersweet, but it also makes them a little more special. As a caregiver, you sometimes feel bad for celebrating these types of days when your loved one is going through this horrible disease, but you shouldn’t. If you weren’t going through this situation, you would still be celebrating birthdays or holidays, so why would this make it any different? This disease puts a new perspective on life, and you should celebrate that to the fullest.

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