Sparked by Words

Open Me First

The holiday dilemma: what do you get for the person who has everything?

Perhaps something goofy like slippers that sing Rock Around the Clock, or something extravagant like a set of diamond encrusted napkins rings, the kind of thing that becomes an expensive party joke. Maybe a bauble like a garden statue of lighted snowmen or a set of holiday themed coffee mugs, useless most of the year because, well, they’re holiday themed and who wants to drink coffee in July with Rudolph’s red nose stenciled on it? We can get truly original: a dozen bottles of wine with personalized labels, Humphrey Malarkey Family Reserve Chardonnay, so it looks like Uncle Humph became a boutique vintner on Christmas Eve.  Another possibility is the very exclusive Himalayan Cilantro Sea Salt Spa Scrub with Acai Crystals – imagine how much fun Great Aunt Agnes will have trying to figure out if she should eat the stuff or bathe in it.

My favorite is the two-pound box of Belgian dark chocolate covered bacon bits because dark chocolate is so good for you and bacon bits are not very good for you but, hey, they’re bacon bits – you get it, right? These are the kinds of gifts we consider when we must give something to a person who can afford to buy a new car for each of their nephews and nieces and then pay all the speeding tickets they rack up. Because people who have everything have, well, everything, and anything we might buy is nothing they need and that’s the whole point.

So now we come to the other side of the gift list, the folks who have nothing and need it all. You know what to do about gifting the less fortunate – write a check and deposit it at your favorite charity. Someone is always in genuine need and your check will do wonders for those lacking anything wonderful in their lives.

But what about gifts for another group that’s nearly impossible to choose something for? What about mom or dad or husband or wife who has Alzheimer’s – what do you get people with fragile health and declining mental faculties? At the memory care residence where my mom lives, I notice the usual solutions: a bouquet of roses or potted bamboo twig for their rooms; a warm scarf or some funny socks; a box of shortbread cookies or a bag of gourmet pretzels; cologne or hand lotion; a costume bracelet or sweater vest. All of them are useful and will be appreciated to a degree, but none will fulfill the most desired wishes of the person who is ill. What they really want, and what you really want to give, is restored health. But you can’t.

Here then is the solution to both giftee dilemmas: The very best present you can give is yourself. To someone richer than Midas or ill with an incurable disease, following are the presents they will all love.

Spend time with them. Commit to an extra hour at each visit, an extra day each month. Worth about a million bucks and comes with bragging rights. My daughter-husband-son-wife is here with me because they love me. No dazzling outfits required, no ticket reservations, just sitting next to your loved one in comfy sweats is fine.

Do an activity you can share. Work an easy crossword puzzle or play Bingo or watch an old movie or take a twenty minute walk in the garden or frost sugar cookies or sing the songs they love or make snowman decorations out of cotton balls with them. It’s the with them part that’s the gift and it’s free.

Make a memory bank. Put together a photo album or collage with name tags to identify their family and closest friends. Listen to their delighted comments as they turn the pages or point at pictures. This is so much richer than a traditional financial investment, and the dividends can be spent over and over without ever depleting the assets.

Take them for a safe and simple outing. A half hour drive through the woods or along the lakefront or by the seashore or around a neighborhood where the houses are festooned with holiday lights is a wonderful change of pace. Point out the ordinary and extraordinary with equal delight because they’ll see everything with equal delight.

Be old school. Send a snail mail letter. I’ve watched folks open cards and letters, running fingers over the words, putting them back in the envelopes and pulling them out again,  over and over and over, grinning the whole time. Even if you can’t be there, even if you can, even if they can no longer read, send a card with a pretty image or a letter with a photograph. Write the word love, sign your name. The best stamp you’ll ever stick.

Share the stories of their youth. Remind them of when they were young and if they can, encourage them to tell you more than you knew before, even if the stories they tell are tall tales. Special events like weddings, births of babies, career advancement, and vacations generate hundreds of topics to discuss. It doesn’t matter if they call their husband their father, their sister their best friend, or you by your hated birth certificate name, or if they get dates and places mixed up. You don’t need to correct errors (who cares?) but you can add your own comments as you build moments in the present with remembrances of the past.

Neither very rich nor very ill folks need more stuff to fill closets. They need stuff to fill their hearts. Yours will fill as well. It’s the Open Me First present and it’s the absolute best. And wait till you see those smiles as they enjoy their favorite gifts of the season.


Note: I’ve written a novel, Where Did Mama Go? about the devastation Alzheimer’s inflicts on families. It’s in the process of being edited, and then I’ll start querying for an agent to represent my work. My credentials for writing this story are sixteen years of assisting my mom through the labyrinth of this illness.


Gift box image courtesy

Comments on: "Open Me First" (60)

  1. Thank you Sharon for this post that many of us will feel suit our dilemma with one or two of your close ones.
    I do love the slippers playing rock’n and roll. 😊 Where did you find them? It would be perfect for one.
    Your ideas of giving of your time agree with me too and I have some. However, the problem with some who have all is that they have very little time……so, it takes imagination here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Uh oh, I have to confess, Miriam, I made up the slippers. I was trying to suggest how silly some gifts can be and to suggest that more thoughtful gifts come from the heart, and from one’s imagination, as you noted.


  2. What a wonderful list, Shari. I can see that working for lots of elders. Have a wonderful holiday!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I wish you well with your novel Sharon. 16 years caring for your mother. You are a saint.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jenna Barwin said:

    Lovely suggestions, Sharon. Our family solved the dilemma years ago by exchanging wish lists (this was pre-Amazon!). I like our wish lists, because I know I’m getting them something they want, and over the years, you get a real feel for what luxuries the person likes. It made it easier to treat my mother to something special when she was bedridden with dementia. (Hint: she loved See’s bonbons.)

    It’s hard filling out my wish list, but I can always use another storage card for my camera or a book, and how would they know which card or book unless I told them! And it’s so much nicer to get and give the real thing than a gift card. So in this frenzied world where we live separate lives, our wish lists give us a peek into each other’s desires.

    Liked by 3 people

    • A wish list is a great idea, Jenna. It’s been helpful for us when getting gifts for family that lives far away as I know I’m not sending them to the return lines at stores. I already wrapped a beautiful, warm bed throw for my mom, something I know will keep her cozy at night. She would never have thought to ask for it. As for bonbons – me too! (That’s the problem with me buying bonbons – they never get to the designated giftee!)


    • We use this method too! Complete with links to the exact items-not very exciting or surprising but efficient and it does take pressure off of the gift buyer. Merry Christmas 🙂


  5. Beautifully written, Sharon. Thinking … even my children would enjoy your wise present ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. oooh – so good, so wise, so everything wonderful, dear Sharon – may I reblog please?


  7. Shari, these are all such wonderful thoughtful ideas – they have one common element of time. This is such a precious gift, often the best gift we can give a loved one. Precious beyond words and even more to someone Alzheimer’s…if just a little spark can be ignited! Wishing you a very special weeeknd. ❤️😀

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I bet your book will be snapped up! With your beautiful writing and experience I’m sure your book will be a blessing to many people going through what you are but have no good words to express it all.


  9. My husband and I send money to our own kids. How are we supposed to know what they want or need when they live in other states? Sure, we talk on the phone but more often than not, what they really need or want is never discussed. It’s discovered during the course of an ordinary day. We do send out Christmas cards by snail mail with notes tucked inside. We also visit a group home where four men live who are severely mentally challenged, usually with pajamas wrapped in holiday paper with a bow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like you are very generous with your time and compassionate about others, and I’m sure your kids appreciate being able to choose what they want, even if it’s just to pay the bills. I hope you have a wonderful holiday, Glynis.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a wonderful post, Sharon. And I couldn’t agree more – ourselves and time we spent with others are the greatest gifts. Luckily I don’t know anyone who already had everything they possibly need, I can imagine that would be a really hard nut to crack! I usually gift only presents I made myself and I can spent the whole year to come up with new ideas.
    Wish you a beautiful holiday season!


  11. Oh my gosh,Shari, I struggle every year thinking what my mom needs in the nursing home. Of course she insists on red lipstick and powder (but forgets to wear it now). I get her warm slippers which she seems to love every year. We can’t give her too much anyway due to space restrictions. My eyes teared up as you so beautifully described how folks run their fingers over the words on the card and open it over and over again. So simple. We hire a transport to bring mom over to my brother’s house for Christmas Day. She remembers everyone in those moments, even the new adopted girls of my brother. Thank you for the wonderful ideas!


  12. Reblogged this on Happiness Between Tails by da-AL and commented:
    Guest Blog Post: “Open Me First,” in Sharon Lynne Bonin-Pratt’s exact words

    6 tips for heartfelt giving by writer and fellow blogger Sharon Lynne Bonin-Pratt…


  13. […] 6 tips for heartfelt giving by writer and fellow blogger Sharon Lynne Bonin-Pratt… […]


  14. This is a great list. One thing that I have been doing more of, especially for the folks who have everything, is to bake holiday goodies to include in the packaging. It is my way to give my time to people and they seem to like the treats. Merry Christmas 🙂


  15. So many great suggestions, Sharon! These were all the things (activities, visits) that my mom loved best in her last years. Just the time being together was the most precious of all.


  16. I really liked this post, especially your list of gifts for those who aren’t well, etc. It made me think of one other category I fit into. I’ve been looking after my elderly stepmother (she’s in a nursing home). She’s not someone I was close to growing up and feel obligated to care for because no one else in our family will. She’s a very difficult person to say the least. Any thoughts on a gift you’d give a person like that? What might be meaningful?


    • Hi Cathi, it’s nice to meet you.

      I did buy an actual item for my mom. It’s a blanket throw, the kind of smaller blanket you can toss over a bed or over a person in a wheelchair. Most elderly people have poor blood circulation and feel colder than others. This might work for you. Another possibility is a short, light weight jacket or sweater, a little more personal but will do the same. I’ve seen the other residents where my mom lives wearing jackets even in summer – and we live in Southern California.

      I’m so sorry you’re in this unfortunate situation of caring for someone you dislike. Being in a nursing home has probably exacerbated her worst behaviors; that’s rather common. When things are over, and they will be over one day, you will be able to look in a mirror and not feel ashamed of the person you face.


  17. What wonderful suggestions. My father-in-law has Alzheimer’s and this year, we got him some postcards about the town he grew up in. He doesn’t remember what he said 5 minutes ago but he loves to reminisce about the past and I think these will spark some good memories!


  18. Sharon what a wonderful post and I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts. We are neither rich nor ill but if asked what we want for Christmas our answer is a donation to Save the children, or Mission Australia or a charity. We are older, we don’t need anything but there are lots that do. For the elderly particularly that time with you is the gift that is most cherished. I hope you have a nice Christmas Day and that the time you spend with your mother is precious. We are taking my Mum for a drive into the country about an hour from here and having lunch at a restaurant then she will come back to our place until after tea (unless which is highly likely she tires beforehand and just wants to go home.) I know we will all enjoy the day.


  19. I agree, your list will come in handy in my world, as well. Pastoral care of the elderly is easily done with great ideas. I know many I hope to gift this season with your ideas. We began a snail mail penpal program with the youth and elderly in our church. It has been positive for all.


  20. […] had been expecting nothing her birthday turned into one that was very special. A blogging friend Sharon Bonin-Pratt wrote a post in December last year about what can we give the person who has everything and she came up with some […]


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