By agebuzz Contributing Editor Julie Buyon
As we head into the holidays, our thoughts turn to gift-giving and perhaps wish lists for presents we hope to receive. Whether you’re a patient or know someone who is, here are some suggestions for gifts that are sure to be appreciated.
The best description of a good gift I’ve ever heard comes from O Magazine columnist Lisa Kogan, who says “…gift giving is all about listening….The right present says, ‘I’ve been paying attention, I get who you are, and I want you to feel cherished.’” So be thoughtful about your gift and try to make sure it communicates those messages. If you’re unsure, never hesitate to ask either the patient or someone close to them what might be helpful, needed, or wanted. Ask about what is unwanted as well, i.e. some medical treatments may cause heightened sensitivity to smell, taste, or touch. Many patients have poor appetites, so food may not always be the best choice (but often it is!).
Of course, any gift, an expression of caring, will be appreciated and meaningful to someone going through a tough time. It’s not always easy to find the perfect way to express your caring and support, but here are some ideas:
GET LOST IN A GREAT READ
Books are great for those who feel well enough to read. Offer something that will bring a smile and an escape. I love giving Laurie Colwin’s column collection from Gourmet Magazine, Home Cooking. These essays are short reads, so not too taxing, and Colwin writes with such charm, warmth, and humanity that you feel like you have made a new friend. Funny books are also great choices – but avoid giving “laugh out loud” books to people with recent abdominal surgery because it really, really hurts to laugh. Some favorites are Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Here’s a compilation of 100 favorite funny books from National Public Radio.
Some people may not feel strong enough to read. Really – on some of my post-chemo days I lacked the energy to even watch TV. A gift certificate for audiobooks from Audible may be just right, or maybe you can check out audiobooks from the library for the person laid low. Personalize this gift by suggesting some of your favorite books or ask your local bookshop or librarian to help pull some suggestions together. (Avoid sad books or stories about illness – the idea is to escape one’s everyday cares.) Make it even more special by offering to come read in person and spend time with the person feeling unwell.
HOW ABOUT SOME CHICKEN SOUP?
Spoonful of Comfort will deliver some right to the door, along with rolls and cookies and a ladle to serve up the soup.
Delicious treats are always welcome if the patient is feeling well enough to eat. Always ask what would be special for him or her. When I was recovering from surgery my kids (then tweens) brought me an assortment of red jelly beans – my favorite candy. They had a great time picking them out and I had a great time eating them!
Meals for the patient’s entire family can be very helpful, as can offering to coordinate meals for the family prepared by many friends, using one of several free or low-cost support coordination sites such as Meal Train, LotsaHelpingHands, or CareCalender.
Gift cards for restaurant delivery services (DoorDash, Grubhub, et al), meal kit boxes (Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, et al) and grocery delivery (Fresh Direct, Amazon Fresh, et al) are all great ways to offer support, especially if you don’t live nearby.
ESCAPE TO THE SMALL SCREEN
With so many programming streaming services available, chances are there’s at least one that the gift recipient doesn’t have and will enjoy. As with books, it’s best if you can offer some thoughtful, vetted suggestions of what to watch on the service. Even when one is well, it can be exhausting to find something to watch! Depending on the person’s TV set up, they might need a streaming stick (such as Firestick, Chromecast, or Roku) to enable their TV to access a streaming service. If you live nearby, offer to set up the streaming device and app and then come watch a movie or binge a series together.
MAKE ‘EM LAUGH
Being sick is no fun, and it helps to keep a sense of humor. Socks are one of my favorite gifts to help keep things in perspective, especially for people going through chemotherapy treatments. Chemo infusions take hours hooked up to an IV, usually in a recliner, so everyone can see your socks. Some great ones are superhero socks (because getting chemo can call for superhero strength), and socks with messages on the soles such as “If you can read this, rub my feet” or “If you can read this bring me some chocolate”.
JUST FOR US GIRLS
Soon after I underwent a big surgery, my friend Constance arrived in my hospital room bearing the following: freshly made coffee in a french press, a croissant, and a purple feather boa, because “every woman needs a little glam”. She also brought a stack of magazines! Photo-heavy magazines are wonderful for patients. There is a special joy in thumbing through a magazine, a treat that had been reserved as recompense for a long wait in the doctor’s waiting room but which was lost to the pandemic. A stack of magazines is something to relish (as were the coffee and croissant)!
Flowers will brighten any woman’s day. Every time I returned home from a chemo treatment a bouquet of flowers from my sister was waiting for me – brightening an otherwise not great day! I send my friend Lucy, who lives 1000+ miles away, a gift right before each of her chemo treatments. So far I’ve sent my favorite hand cream, a lavender aromatherapy blanket, and next, I’m sending a pair of my favorite pajamas, because I know she spends a few days in bed after treatment.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
There are clever folks who have pulled together care packages with thoughtful items that can be found online. Thing-a-ma-gift has a terrific list of gift ideas, as does New York Magazine’s Strategist Gift Guides. And always, don’t hesitate to simply ask about what’s needed, wanted, or might prompt a smile.
YOUR PRESENCE IS THE BEST PRESENT
Often, the very best present you can give is your presence – the gift of your company, of your time, of your care. Never underestimate the value and power of simply being present with someone who is going through a tough time. Sitting by the bedside (or the other end of the couch), holding someone’s hand, and letting them know that you will be beside them through a difficult time is a gift beyond measure. Very powerful indeed!
Julie Buyon is a palliative care patient advocate. She has professional and personal expertise in assisting people with complex illnesses navigate the health care environment. Julie’s role is to help patients feel empowered, and her agebuzz posts are intended to make sure agebuzz readers have all the tools and info they need to advocate for themselves and their loved ones. Julie would love agebuzz readers to email her at [email protected] with any questions or problems encountered with the health care system, and she will do all she can to address those issues in upcoming blog posts. She also welcomes feedback regarding her advice or recommendations. Read all of Julie’s agebuzz posts here and get in touch with Julie now at [email protected].