By: Matt Cavallo
Some of my favorite childhood memories stem from the holidays. On Christmas Eve, my Grandmother prepared a wonderful homemade Italian feast followed by a bonfire in the front yard where the whole neighborhood would gather to sing Christmas carols. Although the weather was never above freezing, we were warmed with a sense of unity in song accompanied by the melodic sound of my cousin’s saxophone.
When my wife and I decided that we were going to move away from my hometown in Massachusetts for a new life in Arizona, I knew that I was leaving behind those traditions that I cherished. I also knew that my boys wouldn’t have the same experience that I did growing up. I was worried that I would be depriving my children of those memories that I held so dear.
I had more pertinent factors to consider in my decision, however. My MS was progressing and I no longer wanted to fight the elements that go hand in hand with living in the Northeast. I love the colors of fall, but I no longer wanted to rake the leaves. There is something so peaceful about looking out the window and seeing the first snow falling, however, the strain of shoveling the driveway and front steps after the snowfall was no longer worth the pain. Life seemed to be becoming too physically draining to really enjoy it. I knew I was ready for a change but wasn’t sure how to start over. Would a change mean robbing my kids of childhood memories? Was I being selfish by putting my health before my family?
The first winter in Arizona was sunny, warm and free of snow. Despite the health improvements and ease of my new lifestyle, I was still missing the Christmas ritual and traditions that I grew up with. I decided that I had two choices: revel in the sadness of what I was “missing” or create new traditions to enjoy. I chose the latter.
Maybe this isn’t the case for you. Maybe you have lived in the same place your entire life, but are experiencing limitations due to your disability. Although you didn’t move, you may no longer feel that you can participate in the holiday season the way you used to. Don’t let these limitations take the joy out of the season you once loved. If this rings true for you, here are some steps to help you embrace new traditions:
- Set new expectations – If your disability is affecting your ability to participate in events, try not to relive how you used to participate. Instead, create new expectations for how to enjoy the same events. For example, if you used to stand up and lead the band, pass the baton. You can still enjoy the music if you sit and listen.
- Focus on the positive – It is easy to get down on yourself during this time of year remembering days before your disability. There is an old saying that I love, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right!” Be positive, believe in yourself, and you will enjoy the holidays even if it is different than it used to be.
- Take advantage of new technology – If you can’t be there in person, take advantage of new technology to bring you as close as possible to friends and loved ones. Skype or Google+ Hangouts are a great way to participate in an event without physically being there.
- Keep your memories alive but update the tradition to fit into your current life – There are certain foods that take me right back to those old days at my Grandma’s house. Learning those recipes and recreating those dinners have been a way for me to remember the past while living in the present.
- Tell your story – People around you view you as a fighter for battling your illness. Use this time of togetherness as a way to share your story, allowing the people you are closest to a better understanding of who you are today.
Four years later, our new family traditions are every bit as meaningful as my childhood memories. We have made great friends in Arizona, and we get together to form our own lasting memories for our children. Whether it is taking the kids up to Santa’s Village in Flagstaff or watching a parade of boats decorated in Christmas lights at the lake, these new traditions are every bit as meaningful as singing in my Grandma’s front yard, minus the frostbite.
In many ways, these new traditions make the holidays more meaningful to me. I have experienced a lot of loss with my MS. With that loss, I realize how precious each moment in life can be and have begun to live in the moment and enjoy it. Embracing these new traditions has taught me that this season is still the most wonderful time of the year despite having MS.
Happy Holidays everyone!
Please note, MSAA offices will be closed December 25th through December 30th. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and will respond to all comments and inquiries upon our return.
*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/