Have you ever received an invitation to a party that says some version of the phrase “No gifts please – your presence is our present”? I have, and I think it’s a lovely sentiment. I appreciate the reminder that the gift of the people in our lives is more important than physical gifts. Being with family and friends is one of the highlights of being a human, right? There’s nothing like sitting down with the people we love and sharing a meal, laughter, and stories together. Some of my fondest memories are not of the things I received, but the people who were with me when I celebrated life’s big moments. Now, however, with a pandemic happening all around us, and an uncertainty that I, personally, have never experienced, this has all been turned on its head. Many of us can no longer be near our loved ones and friends like we used to, and a hug is often out of the question. While it’s painful and difficult to understand how to move forward, there is one thing I believe: now more than ever, we should be giving meaningful gifts to our friends and family. By choosing gifts intentionally, we can be a presence in their lives, without physically being with them. We can create positive moments, in spite of the chaos around us.
Lately, I have been reflecting on times in my life that were anywhere near as confusing and challenging as this time. I keep coming back to one period of time, when I was in middle and high school. During those years, I had the privilege of helping care for my aging grandparents. It was a special experience that left me feeling humble and honored to be a part of such an important phase of life. Watching my grandparents age and all that comes with that was at times challenging, and at other times extremely humorous. It was all day by day. My maternal grandmother, Grandma Cille (short for “Lucille”) developed Alzheimer’s, and so she and my grandfather moved from Florida to be closer to my mom and a few of her brothers. Helping care for my grandmother was something I will never forget. Many of the most important lessons I learned in life, I learned during that time.
When I look back, I remember that my family all gathered around my grandfather and grandmother and assisted with as much as we all could, even when my grandmother couldn’t remember who we were anymore. It was the strangest experience to re-introduce yourself to someone each time you saw them. I know that for most of the time that I knew her, she didn’t know me. It’s a weird way to say it, but it’s true. She had good days and bad days, and would get scared and upset about otherwise average experiences. Going for a check up at the doctor, for example, was terrifying for Grandma Cille. Imagine, all of a sudden you’re with a bunch of people you don’t know, in an unfamiliar place, with no idea why they’re poking and prodding you. In times like those, you have to get creative. Apparently, Grandma Cille had always had a weakness for chocolate. So, my mom would always bring chocolate with her when she knew that there was something like an appointment she needed to take her to. Even though my mom couldn’t be the presence my grandmother needed, she could offer a present instead. It is a reminder to me how gifts can be a tool we use to show our love. As I write this, I am remembering how sweet my Grandma Cille was. She is a reminder to me of how special family is, and how sometimes, a simple gesture, such as giving someone a piece of chocolate, can be all it takes to make a moment positive rather than negative. I like to think that she took comfort from the delicious chocolate we gave her on those difficult days, and that it reminded her of better times in her life when she knew who she was with. It’s amazing how smells, tastes, and sounds can stick with you.
So, I’m giving you permission to give gifts. Right now. It’s what we need. Let’s turn things around and make your presents your presence. This is a call to action – to give like we’ve never given before. And I don’t mean spend like you’ve never spent before! No, I mean choose your gifts like you’ve never chosen before. Consider how you can connect to your family and friends through the most intentional gifts you’ve ever sent them. This is your chance to send them something that will truly mean something, not just a thing for them to open in front of everyone at a party, but something that only they will understand. I recommend choosing something that requires one of the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch. Some ideas…
- Smell: candles, bath salts, anything that brings to mind a comforting scent.
- Sight: a framed photo of the two of you, a drawing or painting of your favorite place to travel to together, a book you read that you think they would also enjoy
- Hearing: a list of songs you have been enjoying lately, relaxing spa music (to go with their candle and bath salts!, something to make them laugh (the sound of laughter goes a long way!)
- Taste: their favorite candy, or, better yet – send a box of pre-made pancake mix and invite them to a virtual brunch!
- Touch: a soft blanket, a stuffed animal, a nice bottle of lotion that smells good and feels great on their skin
Of course, there are plenty of more personalized gifts that I’m sure you can think of. The important thing is that the gifts represent something you have in common, and that they provide comfort and connection during this time apart. They could also be something you look forward to doing together when you can finally see each other again!
During this weird, sometimes terrible, sometimes humorous time that the whole world is experiencing, gifts are important. And good gifts are important. We are all feeling confused, just like my Grandma Cille. Let’s give each other a little hug from afar, in the form of a candle that smells like our mom’s cookies, or a jar of bath salts with an encouraging note to find some peaceful moments amid the chaos. My hope is that we can all find something special to send to someone in our lives, and that it will soothe frazzled nerves, provide a respite from the craziness of teaching, working, and feeding our families. Or, it will bring joy to someone who feels alone right now. Whatever your intention, know that right now is the ideal time to celebrate those whom we love most. My wish for you is that you stay safe and that you see your loved ones again soon!