When I was growing up, sending and receiving Christmas cards was a cherished part of the holiday season. Even if it had been a financially difficult year for our family, we always managed to send out holiday greeting cards to a long list of friends and relatives.
As early as mid-November, my mother would begin hand-writing letters to accompany those greetings, setting up a card table and a metal folding chair in our living room to organize the process. We knew the season was in full swing when the card table had done its service and was placed back in the closet and Christmas mailings from friends and relatives across the country started to arrive. They came by the dozens each day and were usually placed in a decorated basket on the coffee table.
Visitors were always encouraged to “look at what’s in the basket.” The cards that contained photographs were the best. They would generate vividly told “My how they’ve grown” or “changed” or “gotten older” stories.
Today, when I receive a Christmas card in the mail with an accompanying letter, I feel like I’ had been given a gift. Gifting the aging adult can be as simple as that. Yesterday I actually got a card containing a photograph — a former colleague, now widowed and living at a distance, sent a smiling picture with her fluffy puppy in her arms. Made my day — it let me know she was doing just fine.
Personalized greeting cards are wonderful, but sometimes we want gift-giving for the older adults we love so much to involve something more tangible. I vividly recall giving my 75-year-old father a large leather journal with blank pages and wide lines, accompanied by several easy-to-hold pens so he could record military recollections and his early years as a North Dakota farm boy. My dad didn’t smile often, but he did that Christmas Eve. And that journal turned into many more journals. My younger brother holds on to them now, and he’s having all those stories transcribed. He will ultimately gift them to my sister and me — and his own children. So it goes.
The perfect gift for an aging adult may be elusive. My husband and I have a pair of very dear-to-us 95-year-old friends whose two favorite things are chocolate and coca cola. With the intention of doing our part to maintain their health and well-being, I think we will just gift them with festive boxes of dark chocolate truffles this year.
We plan to give another aging friend a “gift of safety,” as she would benefit greatly from a motion-activated light to help her get from bedroom to bathroom (and back) in the middle of the night. Last year we gave my sister-in-law a comfort-height toilet — installed. She said it was, by any measure, the best gift she had ever received.
My personally favorite gift for the older adults in my life is boxes of colorful, pre-addressed and stamped greeting cards that make it easy to keep on giving — I think it’s the gift of staying in touch.
— Sharon Johnson is executive director of Age-Friendly Innovators Inc. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.