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Adjusting My Expectations for Christmas With My Chronic Illness

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It’s on its way! There is no stopping it! Christmas is coming!

That thought may either excite you or leave you trembling with trepidation. There may be an in-between reaction, but generally, the Christmas season and the lead up to the big day is forefront of my mind by mid-November.

I love Christmas. First and foremost, I love the reason for the season. I love that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus. My Christmas pasts were filled with preparing Sunday School classes for the Christmas Eve Nativity play. Choir rehearsals for Carols in the Park. Helping my husband prepare Orders of Service for all the Christmas services so that those who attended, who weren’t usual churchgoers, wouldn’t feel lost and could participate and relax.

I had rehearsals to attend for my annual Christmas Eve Service solo performance of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

In between all that, I was Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, decking the halls, and baking our Christmas cake. I was also working full-time and involved in numerous Christmas celebrations at work.

Every year we would decorate the banking department I managed. We’d put out Christmas treats throughout December for the 350 staff members. Morning teas, afternoon teas, team parties, etc.

I set up a department Christmas choir at work and, complete with singers, guitarists, a violinist, bass player and trumpeter, we moved through each level of my department’s building, spreading Christmas cheer through song, like the Victorian Christmas carolers of old. So much fun!

On Christmas Day, we would head to church in the morning, then head into work where my husband and I would hand out Chrismas gifts to the staff on duty. We’d help set up a Christmas buffet lunch for everyone to enjoy, and then we jumped in the car for a two-hour drive to spend Christmas with my family.

It was full-on. It was focused on giving and celebrating. It was joyous and rewarding for me on so many levels.

Fast forward to today, and those wonderful memories remind me that so much has changed. My love of Christmas remains. My joy in celebrating the birth of Jesus is even deeper. My body, chronic disease and disability, however, prevent me from participating in those wonderful Christmas past activities.

So that could sound like the end of a sad story. It’s not, though. While I loved that full-on Christmas celebration, I equally love the quieter, relaxed Christmas that is my new norm.

I remind myself how blessed I am to have experienced such joy sharing Christmas so actively with so many. I remind myself how blessed I am now to have a wonderful husband to spend a quiet romantic “Christmas for two” with.

If I had expectations of myself that were unrealistic, this season would be awful. I’d either push myself beyond my capabilities and end up sick or in hospital, or I’d just feel miserable thinking of all I can’t do.

This is my fourth Christmas season with my bone disease. The first two Christmas seasons following my leg break were an adjustment period. I grieved my Christmas pasts. I missed not being able to go to church. I missed family and friends. My beautiful step-family came from interstate on the second Christmas after my leg break and that was so special. It helped me have the best of both worlds that year. We had a quiet Christmas Day as they arrived Boxing Day. It was a lovely new memory created within my new limitations. It was such a timely visit as it helped me adjust my Christmas expectations further from old life to new life. It was a gentle bridge.

Last year, I really embraced our “Christmas for two.” It was one of the most special times Peter and I have ever had. We had no set expectations. We decorated the tree, we bought beautiful food, I set a table for two with all the trimmings, we listened to carols, opened way too many presents (I went a little overboard on online shopping) and we watched a Christmas movie in the evening.

There was no set agenda. If we ate at 3 p.m., it didn’t matter. If we didn’t get dressed up, it didn’t matter. If I was really unwell or struggling with pain, it didn’t matter. Expectations were nonexistent. All that mattered was that we were together, relaxing and celebrating in whatever way we could. All that mattered was that Christmas Day, the most wonderful day of the year for us, had arrived.

Follow Sam on her Facebook support forum, Medical Musings with Friends.

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Originally published: November 18, 2017
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