Holiday Gifts When the Cancer is Advanced


Bob Riter
Bob Riter

 Reprinted with Permission of the Ithaca Journal
Original publication date: November 14, 2009.

About this time last year, I wrote a column on buying holiday gifts for people with cancer. I discouraged gifts that focused on illness. No one I know wants a stocking stuffer titled, “Prunes and Persimmons: Fighting Your Cancer with Foods that Begin with P.”

I recommended gifts with a future orientation – tickets for upcoming concerts or perhaps a trip to somewhere pleasant. Thinking about life after cancer often brings a smile.

But what if your loved one has advanced cancer and this holiday season may be their last? Gifts with a future orientation might be well-intentioned, but they ignore the elephant in the room.

If your mother is nearing the end of her life, why not celebrate that life?

A photo album or scrapbook that captures your mother’s life will have more meaning for her than a new pair of slippers. Ask her friends and other family members to contribute photos and mementoes. They’ll be delighted.

And I think it’s a wonderful tribute to make donations in a person’s honor before they die. Suggest donations to your mom’s favorite charity, perhaps creating a special fund in her honor.

Some people say that gifts that celebrate a person’s life are wrong because they imply the person is dying.

Hello? If your mom is dying, she knows that she’s dying. Giving her a family scrapbook isn’t going to push her over the edge.

Holidays bring families together and most of us make special efforts to join loved ones if a family member is seriously ill. Sharing stories is not an admission of impending death – it’s a celebration of life and a recognition that a person’s life continues to have meaning.

There’s no question that holidays take on an added poignancy when a loved one is nearing the end of life. Expect some tears. But expect laughter as well. It’s all about life.

Excerpted with permission from When Your Life is Touched By Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care by Bob Riter, copyright (c) 2013, Hunter House Inc., Publishers.