love, without the trapping of a gift

A very interesting part of sharing experiences through blogging is that I get to connect with other caregivers, many of whom I would never have met otherwise.  On one of my recent blog posts, for example, I got a comment from Lori, who blogs about her own experiences as a caregiver at Alzheimer’s Speaks, and, while going through that blog, I found my way to a few other interesting blogs, such as the blog of Laura Bramly, ElderCareTalk.  They have recently been sharing their perspective on giving gifts for dementia patients.

Reading their blogs made me think of how my own gift-giving habits have changed over the years, with respect to my mother.

When I was young and in school, I would save my pocket money to buy a gift for my mother’s birthday. The gift was always a cotton sari that I would choose myself, and often it cost me the pocket-money of two or three months. I used to feel very great when she wore the sari I had presented to her (and told people that the sari was a gift from her daughter).

Once I began earning, and was living away from home, the occasion for the gift-giving became my visits home. It was still saris, sometimes more than one, handpicked to match her tastes. But sometimes, instead of a sari, I would buy her an embroidered shawl, or a special type of handbag.

In my growing years, my mother’s gifts to me were books that she selected based on my reading likes and dislikes, often books she had enjoyed and thought I would.

But around fiften years ago, the gifts changed. She was no longer in touch with my likes and dislikes, and so she stuck to Hallmark cards, or gave me cash and told me to go buy something. I stayed with my old habit of gifting her saris and shawls, but noticed that as she hardly socialized, they often remained unused. She did not look very happy getting them, either, but I didn’t know what else to give her.

Some years ago, I realized that she no longer remembered her birthday. When someone wished her on her birthday, she got depressed, almost weepy. Based on a few stray sentences she said, I realized that birthdays had become a source of stress for her. She thought anyone who wished her also expected a party, and she was not comfortable in any social situation. She was scared people expected her to remember their names, she was scared she would look stupid, something intolerable to her. Words had stopped coming easily to her, and she dreaded situations where people expected her to respond (or where she thought they would). It became kinder to her to reduce the birthday wishes to a hug and cut out the booming enthusiasm, and so we had to downplay her birthday, or any other occasion that, to her, was a test of her social skills.

We still need to share special moments, though, and we do it differently now.

For the last few years, when I can think of something she will enjoy, I give it to her without calling it a gift. “I was in the market and I saw this and thought of you,” I tell her. Or I prepare a labeled photo album, or a scrap book. Sometimes she enjoys these gifts for repeated use, sometimes she doesn’t even bother to look at them.  I try to give her something every few weeks.

In the last three months, this has changed further, because she cannot concentrate enough to enjoy even small toys and pictures. I still have some items I had bought to gift to her, and am waiting for a day when she is alert enough to at least enjoy them for a few minutes.

In her current state, I find that what makes her smile most, what cheers her most, is my just standing near her, holding her hand, talking softly to her. So I make sure I do that as often as I can–that is my gift to her, and her smile back, on the days she smiles, makes it worth every moment. As they say about gifts, it is the thought behind it that counts; perhaps, dementia patients, having discarded their trappings of personality and memories, can appreciate the thought behind the gift without any trappings.  Perhaps they have their priorities right, and looking after them helps us get our priorities right, too.

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India. I have also been a dementia caregiver for well over a decade, and am deeply concerned about dementia care in India; on this blog I share my personal caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care. For structured information on dementia, for discussions, tools and tips on caregiving issues, for resources in India, and for caregiver interviews, please check my website http://dementiacarenotes.in (or its Hindi version, http://dementiahindi.com). For videos on dementia caregiving (English and Hindi), check the youtube channel here.

2 Responses to love, without the trapping of a gift

  1. Laura Bramly says:

    Swapna: What a beautiful post. Thank you. When life is reduced to its basics, we are all reminded of what is important.

    • Thanks, Laura.

      I think it is marvelous that we can share our thoughts on this, adn keep learning from the life-changing experience that caregiving is. When I started on caregiving, I saw it as a bundle of responsibilities and activities, but over the years, that caregiving has provided me an opportunity to emotionally and spiritually grow in ways that the hustle and bustle of life would otherwise not permit.

      To finally be able to touch the soft sore inside that is love…it is perhaps my mother’s gift to me.

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