8 gifts to give yourself this year

My daughter Summer married her college sweetheart in the month of December. Several 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.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In two days, I’m boarding an airplane and hurtling toward New Jersey to send The Parents on an anniversary-celebrating trip (rumor is they’re going to Disney World).

I’m also going to Jersey as a Christmas gift to me.

Consider these gifts you can wrap up and give to you 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 sometimes lonely in those places. Staying connected with our people sends this message: You’re important to me.

But I think we get so much more in return. Speaking from my experience, connectedness 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

When our children were young, the luxury of getting away with my husband, Gary—which usually meant grandparental intervention—was … well, 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 new memories

As in years past, the grands and I will go ice-skating. And we’ll walk through all the stages of a local live nativity scene, complete with donkeys and sheep and camels and Roman soldiers on horses. And we’ll do a neighborhood scavenger walk, and make homemade pizzas, and read bedtime stories, and build Lego creations. Who needs Disney World when there’s ice-skating, pizza, and Legos?!

Here’s the cool thing about making memories, especially when documented with an excessive amount of photos: They can’t be taken from us.

Photo by Roberto Nickson (@g) on Unsplash


4. The gift of recollecting old memories

Every time I visit, the four youngest grandchildren (a.k.a., The Littles) want to watch the Grandpa Video, created by son-in-law Josh for Gary’s Celebration of Life service. They’ve seen this video several times, but we’ll probably watch it again this year. And we’ll probably stop repeatedly because they always have 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 courageous, witty, kind man I was married to for so many years, and to share recollections of him with the grandchildren he didn’t get to meet.

Instead of shying away from remembering the times that were better, richer, fuller before life’s circumstances changed everything, consider the memories as a gift we give to ourselves and others.

5. The gift of adventure

Three years ago, my son, Jeremy, and daughter-in-law, Denise, celebrated a milestone anniversary by renting a villa on the coast of Puerto Rico and inviting 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 while 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, and partaking of fabulous local cuisine.

Every time we say Yes to adventure, it makes us braver for the next undertaking. (So maybe this particular item should have been labeled “the gift of courage.”)

6. The gift of positive self-talk

Sometimes it’s easier to stay home because we’re a fifth-wheel single person. Or because we have cancer, or we’re not as mobile as we used to be, or 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, or 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 there.”

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. It’s one thing to enjoy burbling, rowdy, laughter-filled group moments … and it’s quite another to give your undivided attention to one little 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. Only multiplied.

8. The gift of joy

Though this is surely a difficult season for many, there is still much to be grateful for. Part of my gratitude list from last year at this time:

Safe flight to the land of kids and grands

“Cantique de Noel” playing on Pandora — breath-taking keys and strings

Raucous games of Uno where grandchildren show no mercy on their old and decrepit grandmother

Every one-on-one conversation over chocolate steamers and Chai lattes

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, joy overtakes my heart and soul.

Go ahead, wrap up several priceless, gleeful gifts for yourself: family-and-friend time, remembering sessions, gratitude, adventure, positive self-talk, being in service — and see if joy doesn’t wrap you up this holiday season.


Tidings of comfort and joy? But what about my loss?


Inconvenient love


  1. What’s positive about your cross-country trips, besides the obvious of getting to be with your loved ones, is that there’s no culture shock as far as weather is concerned. It’s been pretty cold here so far. It sounds like you are going to have a fun holiday. Have a safe trip and a beautiful blessed holiday.

    • Thank you for your well wishes, Marcia. You’re right … there’s not much difference in weather between the Oregon mountains and the east coast at the moment!

  2. This is beautiful, Marlys. Decrepit, my foot!

  3. Julie A Miller

    Merry Christmas Marlys, your words are a gift themselves!

  4. Kathi

    Sorry Marlys, there is nothing old and decrepit about you my friend. Have a safe and wonderful time with your family! Merry Christmas. I hope to see you again in this he New Year!

  5. Nasus

    Thank you, Marlys! A beautiful job sharing your priceless attitude and unending love for your family! They are so blessed to have you so willing,YOUNG and ABLE to take on the Littles and the Not So Littles with joy and wondrous anticipation! May God bless you and each of them as you invest in each other. Love you! Merry, Blessed Christmas, as you celebrate our Savior and Lord’s birth with your family!

    • The Littles and the Not So Littles are all growing out of any littleness – which just about breaks my heart. Christmas blessings to you, Nasus!

  6. Barbara Winterfeld

    Fear not! Marlys, new and wonderful adventures follow even with them getting older. Your imagination will bring joyful experiences. Safe trip, looking forward to hearing about it.

  7. Marissa

    Beautifully written! Loved hearing all the wonderful memories to have with the grandchildren.

  8. Peter Howe B.E.M.

    This is way too late Marlys so I will keep it short. For some unique reason (I guess) I devised a special hand shake for the occasion of meeting a new young male (mainly with a family connection). So, the handshake, complete with a high five to end it off, became a talking point/memory piece and the lads always used to remember it, as best they could. So, through the years any one of those males whom we get to meet will put out his hand and the ‘special handshake’ happens, with many a smile, laugh, especially with others looking on wondering, “What on earth is happening here”. I guess I can put it down to my sense of humour or a bit of nonsense…. because it still causes a reaction, a laugh or an enquiring, “Show me that again”. This bit of nonsense has stood the test of time and God only knows why!!. Lovely to read all the messages. God Bless, Bx P & family.

    • What a fun bit of nonsense, Peter, and memorable to all the younger guys in your family. I suspect it’s these types of simple ‘gifts’ that stay with the recipient for a long time to come.

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