“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

No matter what holiday you celebrate around this time of year a large portion of your time is spent thinking about gifts. For many of us it is stressful, especially buying gifts for friends, and co-workers. How much to spend? What to buy? And to whom are you giving a present? Before you bake or buy that tin of cookies or that box of specialty hot chocolate, think about giving something that is truly meaningful – your time.

In my experience, people are very caring and giving in times of tragedy, illness or loss, or even joyous occasions like the birth of a child with visiting and bringing casseroles or other gifts because it is immediately on their mind. But what happens weeks or months down the road? Families handling long term disabilities or illnesses can be at times the forgotten ones. Recently I was in the grocery store and started talking to the woman next to me and discovered that four years ago, her husband had a stroke necessitating  constant care. She still takes care of him at home. I recently attended a seminar and one of the speakers was a cancer survivor. She made the statement that after being diagnosed with cancer, as more time went on, fewer and fewer friends kept in touch.

I completely understand that some people don’t do well around illness or find it difficult to know how to comfort a grieving individual six months after the loss. However, there are so many things that you can do to make a difference. Think of the many things you do different this time of year, and then think can my friend get out of the house to do that?   Being unemployed or on a fixed income can be extremely grim especially with the emphasis on spending.  Many times there is not money for extra gasoline.  Individuals that don’t drive and use taxis might not have the money for additional trips. It can be as simple as stating, “I am going to go to the grocery store for baking supplies, can I get you anything or would you like to come?”

If you are okay with illness or a disability, offer to stay a few hours and let the caregiver get out of the house. This might be the only quality time they have to spend with a spouse or child. If you are squeamish, is there some chore that needs doing, like yard work? Offers like this are especially wonderful after a loss. As time goes by, reality sits in and sometimes depression or hopelessness.

If there are children in the family, especially if they are your own children’s age,  include them in some of your holiday activities.  Invite them over to bake cookies or watch a movie. Or if you are just going to the library, invite them along.  Your friends will appreciate you giving their child a sense of normalcy.

If you have experienced a challenging time around the holidays, what offering of caring touched you the most?  If you have given of your time have you done something different than what I mentioned?

- Leigh AAR

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6 Responses to ““The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson”

  1. maggie b. says:

    A lot of times I take a meal over. Cooking dinner on a daily basis can be a grind on your time and energy. Many families with problems in their life rely heavily on quick foods to minimize time lost to dinner preparation. Having something hot to put on the table that doesn’t come from a fast food place can be a real treat.

    BTW, this used to be something people did when a baby is born or someone in the family died but the tradition has mostly faded away in urban areas. People now get very excited when someone does this for them. I fill a cardboard box with a main dish, a few side dishes and a desert. The food tends to be simple – lasagna, salad, rolls and some simple jell-o desert.

  2. PatF says:

    We live in the “rural south”. When there is a birth, an illness, a serious injury or death in a family, there is always an outpouring of food and offers of “what can I do to help?”. When out-of-town members of that family arrive and observe this, they invariably comment. When oncoming traffic approaches a funeral procession, they pull over to the side as it passes. That is probably not feasible in a high traffic city but it is very touching. I hope these traditions live on through many more generations.

  3. LeeB. says:

    Very thoughtful column Leigh.

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