Having Mom here has just reminded me that she's not the greatest gift receiver. Oh, she will ooh and aah and thank you for whatever, but in her mind, it's too expensive/pretty/too much trouble to wear or use, and the gift lies dormant for quite some time. I realize this stems from her innate reluctance to spend money/time/effort on herself, and she would much rather slip me a $20 bill and say, "Get me some gum and keep the change" than spend that money on herself. She just doesn't realize that the expensive orthopedic-type shoes my sister got her for Christmas should be on her feet, not in a corner, and yes, they have to be broken in to feel like the old shoes (exact same style) she has worn every day for 3 years. She also doesn't realize that the Polartec vest Ed and I painstakingly picked out for her at Christmas should be on her body, not languishing on her bedpost. None of this is because she doesn't appreciate the effort; I think it is simply because she thinks deep down she doesn't deserve it. She has always been one to give more than receive.
As I recently pondered her inability to enjoy the usual material things in life, I tried to figure out what does make her happy. And I will tell you my conclusion: To make Mama happy, you make other people that she loves happy. That, in a nutshell, is her philosophy of life. She experiences gift-giving vicariously.
My sister understands this, of course. Ever since her accident Mama has had a contraption for hip replacement patients who can't bend forward that helps her put her socks on. You slide the sock on the contraption, then use ropes to lower the contraption to your feet, and while the sock remains nice and stiffly snug around the plastic, you slip your foot in and pull on the ropes to get the sock over your foot. Now, Mama's best friend in Memphis has a son who has had diabetic problems with his feet. Mama thought it would be great to get him one of these things, and my sister in Memphis immediately went to a local store, bought one, and drove it over to this lady's house. When Mama here in Maine found out what my sister had done, she smiled broadly and talked about it for days. My sister made Mama happy....by making someone she loved happy in her name.
This is basically honoring my mom by honoring someone else. It brings her intense pleasure.
If I give a gift to one of my kids, Mama is so joyous that it is as if I had given it to her. If I hear good news about the grandkids, Mama beams as if she herself had won the lottery. If my sister’s daughter gets accepted into college, Mama is ecstatic.
I should have had an inkling when I was growing up that Mama likes to live vicariously. I took piano lessons for 5 years. I love playing the piano (didn’t love the lessons!), so I’m glad I was “forced” to learn. However, I still remember the reason that my parents decided on piano for me when I was in second grade. Mama had told me, “I had always wanted to play the piano, and never got the chance, so I wanted you to learn.”
In a way, Daddy was just the opposite. He cherished his gifts of ties, cashews, peanut brittle, and page protectors. He wore/ate/used them consistently and proudly. I miss being able to give Daddy gifts, since he died when I was 26.
I think, though, in a way we are all like Mama. To see loved ones happy and well cared for...well, who couldn't be pleased with that? Then I realized that my sister and I are giving our dad the ultimate gift.
We are giving Daddy gifts every day as we give to Mama. We are taking care of his beloved, the girl he married when she was 19 and he was 27, the girl who assumed he would take care of her and protect her the rest of her life, who was unexpectedly widowed at 57. One of my favorite Bible verses is Jesus’ reminder that when you are kind to another human being, you are being kind to him. So my sister is giving Daddy gifts when she balances Mama’s checkbook, pays her bills, picks out her Medicare plan, and cleans up Mama’s house to sell it. I give Daddy gifts when I wash Mama’s tired body, when I rub lotion on her legs, when I make her laugh with some lame joke in the comics, and when I show her pictures of the family on Facebook...the same things my sister has done for her these past three years. Daddy is not here to do it anymore, and so we do it, not only because we ourselves love Mama, but also because we love Daddy and know he wants the best for her.
We honor Mama, we honor Daddy, we honor our childhood, our memories, each other, and the people and environment who formed us with love. In this way, the giving never stops.