8 gifts to give yourself this holiday season

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.


Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash


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

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 — 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.


Thriving through the holidays with loss


Define your purpose; live your reason


  1. Beautiful! This season, I’m focusing on the gifts of joy and gratitude. Expressing to my kids and grandkids all they mean to me… especially while 100% in the moment with 4-year old grandson Logan – I live for his laughter!

  2. MJ Benson

    I was just thinking about you the other day, hoping you were going to be back east with your kiddos this Christmas. And here comes another beautiful message of hope to the hurting. I’m sad to say my friend here in Oregon will be needing the encouragement this time next Christmas that comes from reading your heartfelt missives. I hope it brings peace to your heart knowing that you are touching many lives. Wishing you, Summer, Jeremy and their families a wonderful Christmas!

    • It’s interesting, but I have no concept of touching people’s lives, and in fact, oftentimes write because it’s therapy for me. So you see, selfish motives. Thank you for your kind comments, MJ.

  3. Nasus

    Yes, thank you for the good reminder that loving relationships bloom and grow with more time spent in person valuing each other! You are such a trooper and a blessing to invest as much loving care into those grandkidlets as possible while you are there! Merry Christmas to you all! God’s richest blessings! Love, prayers, and much appreciation for you, dear Marlys!

  4. Marcia Musial

    I took much away from this my friend, and it’s stored in my brain. It truly isn’t something I worry about or dwell on, but at ages 59 and 62 (myself & Joe), thoughts cross my mind about our own mortality and how the remaining spouse will spend holidays. And my favorite snippet? “Who needs Disney when you have Barnes & Noble”? Lol. Love that! After we retired, we sold our house and moved to a rental in a gated community set in a wooded area. Yet, 500 feet down the street is a huge mall, strip mall, every chain restaurant you can think of, a Wachovia casino and hustle & bustle of all kinds. And a Barnes & Noble, my second home! We haven’t taken a vacation in 5 years because we feel like we’ve BEEN on one FOR 5 years! Thanks for this.

    • Marcia – I love that you and Joe have been on vacation for 5 years! How wise of you to pare down – with less to hold you back and less to take care of – and more time and awareness for the simple pleasures of life. Good for you and Joe!

  5. Marcia Musial

    PS: I just ordered “Embracing Grace” from Amazon.

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