It’s December 14 and I’m at the mall in a giant line to pay for a pile of presents I have been assured by my family members no one needs. My Parkinson’s disease symptoms are in full force. My muscles are so stiff I can barely shuffle my feet forward as the line advances. I clutch the edge of the display shelves that delineate the line to keep my balance. I consider how ridiculous this is. I maintain my patience while I wait so I don’t stress myself out and make my symptoms worse. I vow to come up with a better way to show my appreciation for my loved ones next year.
As a person with a chronic illness, time and energy is precious. The last thing I want to do is spend time at the mall in lines buying things people don’t really need and may not even want.
I want to show love and appreciation for my loved ones. How can I do so with the resources I have? What can I do that would be a true gift to someone else?
Don’t get me wrong, I like the excitement of shiny wrapped packages. But in the realm of gift possibilities I consider, I land on a different option. Instead of spending 45 minutes at the mall trying to decide on something that will show my love and appreciation in a cost-effective manner, I could spend 45 minutes showing my love and appreciation directly by interacting with a real person. Isn’t time the true gift? I’m not always great or reliable with outings and events, but I can make a phone call, send an email, check in, show interest and share some of myself.
Having a chronic illness can be very lonely. Sometimes I feel so low and tired, I don’t really feel like talking. I feel weird and misunderstood. I get wrapped up in my struggles. Loneliness is a health risk factor. Giving to others has health benefits. Could showing appreciation to my loved ones by making a phone call, showing true interest, making a connection be a gift that gives twice?
This makes me think of my friend Heather. She was a person who made her presence, her attention, her sharing and her very self a gift. She died in 2009 at the age of 33 when inflammatory breast cancer spread to her brain. She was the kind of friend who would call me three times a day just to check in or tell me about her day. If she was buying underwear, I would know about it. She was generous in sharing herself and showed interest in the nitty-gritty details of my life. I was privileged to be admitted into the intimate process of her dying. Letting me into this difficult experience in her life, sharing her true emotions and letting me see her imperfections was truly a gift.
Even when she was sick and dying of cancer for the last two years of our friendship, she gave her attention, her interest, her awareness, her presence, her experiences, her thoughts and her emotions. She gave by asking me to be with her.
I hate to admit that sometimes her generous friendship was too much. Sometimes I felt overwhelmed by the calls and the requests to be a part of her activities. But now that she is gone and has been for over 10 years, the hole that she left in my life is still enormous.
Maybe it is a sign of the times, or maybe I just have isolated myself, but it seems like people aren’t that generous with themselves anymore. I miss Heather terribly. I miss how present she was in my life and I in hers. How I mattered to her and she mattered to me.
I remember a few of the material gifts Heather gave me — a stuffed Cougar she gave me before she died for my future 30th birthday and a painting she made for me. Mostly, I remember her presence in my life, her care, her interest and how she made me feel like I mattered to someone. This is a true gift that anyone in any state of health or ability can give.