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It’s The Giving, Not The Gift

The older we get, the more bittersweet become our memories.   Certainly this is true about the holidays.   We don’t need to be in our seventies to feel nostalgic, even a bit sad, as the new year approaches.  Looking back, thinking over  the celebrations of the past, we invariably see both the sweet – the breathlessly excited little ones, the parties and colors and timeless rituals – right along with the bitter – the absent partners, the long-gone friends and classmates, the scattered family.  We are generally glad to be here, if you will, but miss, really miss, what is gone forever.

The holidays are particularly hard on our elderly friends and family.  Many would never admit it, of course (don’t worry about me!  Christmas is for the young!), but just as many are lonely and left out, overlooked.  It’s as if their memories don’t matter anymore; they have no more parts to play.  And given the fact of American life that many of us grow old far from home, away from familiar places and faces, it’s no wonder that the holidays are difficult as we age, even depressing.

So let’s fix this unhappy situation right now!  Be sure to include elderly relatives and neighbors in your holidays plans.  And don’t worry about what to get them.  It really is the thought that counts here, not the value of the things.  Everyone benefits when the festivities include all the generations.  So you needn’t torture yourself over what to buy old Aunt Sarah or her third husband, the one she met in the nursing home last May.  What matters is the giving part.  Recognize them.  Honor them.  Surprise them.  take them to church or temple.  It doesn’t have to be much more than a visit and a thoughtfully wrapped framed picture or a basket of treats baked by the kids.  Maybe you can re-create Sarah’s famous pound cake.  There are all sorts of options.

In fact, here are some other great ideas for creative gifts for grandparents (real or honorary), older friends, neighbors or relatives:

  • Large print playing cards.  Large-print edition newspaper or magazine subscriptions.
  • Does someone do handwork?  How about a hands-free-over-the-neck magnifier?
  • Speaking of magnifiers: a magnifying compact or small mirror is really handy for grooming chores.
  • Amplified telephones.  
  • An alarm clock with easy-to-read numbers, a lighted dial, and plenty of batteries.
  • A thermometer clock that tells both the time and the indoor/outdoor temperature.
  • How about a public alert radio and flashlight set – 24-hour weather info and an emergency flashlight in one?
  • Is she still driving?  How about a light that senses the distance between a wall and the car bumper?  Makes navigating easier!
  • Aromatherapy slippers and mittens.
  • A new heating pad or other specialty item (such as nail clippers that actually work, along with some toasty socks, or a blood pressure monitor)
  • Fresh flowers, delivered.  Who doesn’t love flowers?
  • A photo from his or her past, matted and framed.
  • A tie – really.  It means he’s still consequent, a man about town.  And make plans to go somewhere with him so he can wear it.
  • A music box that plays a favorite song.  
  • DVDs of movie favorites.
  • CDs of favorite music.  Or create the CD yourself, with music you know is loved or has special meaning.
  • Treat baskets.  And yes, we know all about diet restrictions and the rest, but they will share what they can’t eat themselves.  
  • Get a digital voice recorder and encourage him or her, or them, to record their life stories.
  • A pretty scarf,  a lace hankie, a bit of costume jewelry, something to treasure.  Beauty must always be part of our lives, no matter our age.
  • An inexpensive cell phone, along with a basic plan.   And see if you can’t also take care of the monthly invoices.
  • A day trip or travel package, one designed for older adults.  
The whole point is to not let ourselves get so overwhelmed and anxious about doing the wrong thing that we end up doing nothing at all.  Growing old is not a crime or a sentence – it’s just part of the process.  We don’t need to hide the old relatives away or send them expensive baubles so much as we need to keep them part of the story, all year long if possible, but most especially at holiday time.  Make those calls,  bake those cookies, stop by and say hello.  Share the holiday cheer.  You’ll feel better – so much better! – and so will they.
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