My husband, Gary, was diagnosed with late-stage disease, whereupon the experts projected two years because he was relatively young and in good shape, and prostate cancer is slow-growing.
But Gary beat the two-year deadline. In fact, he lived ten high-volume, courageous years. And if I needed to assign credit for his extended quality of life, part of it would have to go to our gift-giving practices.
Here are a few of those practices – gifts you might consider giving yourself this holiday season:
- The gift of being in service
As I write this, I’m in New Jersey with my grandchildren while my daughter and son-in-law celebrate their anniversary. With six kids, The Parents don’t get away overnight without a grandparent present (rumor has it they went to Disney World). I remember how rejuvenating it was when we had young children at home and Gary and I could slip away, courtesy of my parents. And so I gladly pay it forward.
Back during the cancer years, Gary and I established a few ways to give back. He trained to be a Cancer Hope Network peer support volunteer, and we shared our living-well-with-cancer story across the country.
Here’s how being in service is a gift to the one serving: By showing kindness or assistance to others, we give ourselves deep, overpowering, crazy joy.
- The gift of connection
Even though cancer and side effects of treatment tried to physically limit Gary and me from staying connected with family—most of whom lived some distance away—our goal was to be present for as many holidays, weddings, births, and graduations as possible.
Being present and engaged isn’t merely something we give to whoever we’re present and engaged with; it’s also a gift we give ourselves. Because when we invest in creating solid, authentic relationships, the investment comes back around.
- The gift of positive self-talk
This gift goes hand-in-hand with staying connected. Sometimes it’s easier to camp out at home because we have cancer; because we’re not as mobile as we used to be; because we’re on a special diet and we don’t want to impose on others.
Practice repeating after me:
“My doctor says I can travel, so why not?”
“I’m not an imposition; my family and friends would rather have me present than not.”
“It’s their turn to visit, but it’s easier for me to get on a plane/ train/ car headed in their direction.”
- The gift of creating memories
Because Gary was on a treatment that caused osteoporosis, we took up pounding the pavement to strengthen bones. We discovered the trails in the Cascade Mountains near our hometown. And then we conquered the Colorado Rockies and Wyoming’s Tetons. As a result, there are full-color adventure movies playing in my head.
Here in Jersey, I’ve intentionally looked for fun, preposterous, magical things to do with the grands before The Parents return. One evening last week was Barnes & Noble Book Night, which turned out to be a fabulous memory-making event with classmates and school staff assembled for book-reading and scavenger-hunting and hot-chocolate-drinking. Who needs Disney World when there’s Barnes & Noble?!
Here’s the cool thing about memories, especially those documented by an excessive amount of photos: They can never be taken from us.
- The gift of joy
Somewhere along the bleak cancer journey, Gary and I learned we could count all that would never be the same again … or we could count what remained. And counting our blessings somehow made the journey not so bleak.
In this wintry season, even without my husband, there is much to be grateful for:
- Safe flight from Oregon to the land of kids and grands
- Barnes & Noble Book Night
- “Cantique de Noel” playing on Pandora – breath-taking piano keys and strings
- Pizza-making sessions
- Uno card games with grandchildren who show no mercy on their grandmother
- Every one-on-one conversation over chocolate steamers and Chai tea
- Every bedtime story, cuddle, kiss, tickle, giggle with The Littles
- Every eye-roll from The Teens as I channel their grandfather’s corny humor
This wisdom from David Steindl-Rast: “The root of joy is gratefulness.” When I focus on all there is to be grateful for, then joy overtakes my heart and soul.
Go ahead, wrap up some priceless, extraordinary, walloping gifts for yourself—positive self-talk, family/friend connections, memory-making, being in service, gratitude—and see if joy doesn’t wrap you up this holiday season.