Daughter Summer married her college sweetheart in the month of December. Twenty-two years and six children later, Josh and Summer are still sweethearts. And the only way they can get away for a few days together is when a grandparent is present.
This is where I come in.
For the third year in a row, since my husband, Gary, died, I arrived in New Jersey to send The Parents on an anniversary-celebrating trip (rumor is they went to Disney World).
I’m also in Jersey as a Christmas gift to me.
By design, I’ve kept gift-giving simple: Presents for the grandchildren, and warm, fuzzy, soft knitted creations for the beautiful women in my life: daughters, sisters, nieces, friends.
And then there are the gifts from me, to me — presents you might consider giving yourself this holiday season:
1. The gift of staying connected
In widowhood, I set a determination to be with family and friends at holidays and milestone events. Even if it’s inconvenient. Even if it’s lonely without my husband. Staying connected sends this message: You’re important to me.
But I think we get so much more in return, because staying linked with our people provides an overwhelming sense of belonging.
This wisdom from Brené Brown:
Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.
2. The gift of being in service
The luxury of getting away with Gary when our children were young—which usually meant grandparental intervention—was exactly that: a luxury. And now I get to be in service in this same capacity for my adult children.
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.
3. The gift of creating memories
I’ve intentionally looked for fun, preposterous, magical things to do with the grands. A neighborhood scavenger walk; Barnes & Noble Book Night 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 making memories, especially when documented with an excessive amount of photos: They can never be taken from us.
4. The gift of adventure
Two years ago, Son Jeremy and Daughter-In-Law Denise celebrated a milestone anniversary by renting a villa on the coast of Puerto Rico and inviting a number of family and friends to join them.
Although this didn’t occur at Christmastime, it was, nevertheless, a gift from me, to me. Because I had more fun than a grandma ought to be allowed, hanging out with an energetic group of adventure-seeking young people around the pool, on the beach, stand-up paddle-boarding down a lazy river, jumping from a massive tree limb into that same green river.
Every time we say Yes to adventure, it makes us braver for the next undertaking. So maybe this particular gift idea should have been labeled “the gift of courage.”
5. The gift of positive self-talk
Sometimes it’s easier to stay home because we’re a fifth-wheel single person; because we have cancer; because we’re not as mobile as we used to be; because we’re on a special diet, which is too much trouble to impose on others.
And sometimes we play the It’s-their-turn-to-visit game.
Practice repeating after me:
“It’s their turn to visit, but it’s easier for me to get on a plane, car, train headed in their direction.”
“My doctor says I can travel, so why not.”
“I am not a fifth-wheel. My family and friends want me here.”
6. The gift of remembering
Earlier this week, the four youngest grandchildren (a.k.a. The Littles) asked to watch the Grandpa Video, created by SIL Josh for Gary’s Celebration of Life service. They’ve seen this video several times, but we had to stop repeatedly because they had questions: “Wait, how did that bird get on his head?” “Did you climb that mountain?” “How old is Mom in this picture?”
It does my heart good to remember this noble, dry-humored, kind man and to share memories of him with the grandchildren he didn’t get to meet.
Instead of shying away from remembering, consider it a gift we give to ourselves and others.
7. The gift of one-on-one time
While Gary was still alive, we started a tradition of taking each grandchild out individually for a hot chocolate or ice cream cone. Because it’s one thing to enjoy burbling, raucous, laughter-filled group moments … and it’s quite another to give your undivided attention to one person at a time.
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.
8. The gift of joy
In this season, even without Gary, there is much to be grateful for:
Safe flight to the land of kids and grands
Barnes & Noble Book Night
“Cantique de Noel” playing on Pandora — breath-taking piano keys and strings
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 — family/friend time, remembering sessions, gratitude, adventure, positive self-talk, being in service — and see if joy doesn’t wrap you up this holiday season.