The Best Christmas Gift for the Seriously Ill and the Grieving: Your Time While Being Fully Present

As head of the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation and also as a bereaved mommy with 14 years of heart-searing, backbreaking, caregiving experience, I'm often asked to recommend gifts for the seriously ill, those in hospice or the grieving. I love the requests to play Santa's elf for people all over the world. It's great fun!

I've recommended botanical oils, warm fuzzy blankets, books, music, yummy chocolates, and about anything I find that brings comfort. Yet at the end of every single list shared, I include the most important, yet most difficult items to give: the gift of time and the gift of being fully present with those in your midst.

It's a funny thing when the gift-giver gets to the bottom of my "elf-list." I see it on their faces sometimes. "Yea, yea, thanks, Dianne," they seem to be saying. "Don't you hear me? I need something to wrap, something to put under the tree...something for my (mother/brother/child/father) to show I care!"

This played out in my own life when my then eight-year-old son was bedridden and unable to move due to his neurodegenerative disorder.

My mother called asking what she could buy him for Christmas. I remember saying, "Mom, he really can't play with anything but thank you for asking. It would be great, however, if you could drive over and read to him."

There was silence on the other end of the phone. It wasn't that she didn't love him. It wasn't that she was incapable of getting to my house that was two hours away. It was that I had requested the single most difficult gift to give: for her to be fully present alongside the dying while also bearing witness to my grief.

So that Christmas, there were boxes to open -- a lot of gifts that were thoughtful and well-intentioned. I remember being truly thankful for those attempts at traditional gift giving.

However, what I remember most of all about that Christmas, was looking into my young son's smiling face as we read Marc Brown's Arthur's Christmas book.

It was a magical night. His 10 x 12 room was lined with twinkling Christmas lights
that cast a glow everywhere. Most important though was that Austin seemed to have received a gift that resonated within his soul: undivided attention wrapped in unconditional love.

If ever Santa was to have brought him a specially designed present that year, I think it was that one singular hour between us. I remember going to sleep that night feeling as though I had given him something he would remember forever. Little did I know, however, the true gift was for me, the one who would outlive her young son.

It was the gift of feeling fulfilled, a concept shared so eloquently in these lyrics by Steve Real and Marlen Landin -- in a song just released by Steve and Olivia Newton-John:

When we let go
And surrender
To faith not fear
The path is clear
If we can see
Through eyes of Love
Then I am fulfilled

Our hearts they speak
More than words
We rise, we fall
And risk it all
If we can trust with our eyes closed
Then I am fulfilled

We can't wait for tomorrow
And there's no bringing back yesterday
All we have
Is this very moment
In time
It's time

Please give the gift of your time to that very special person in your life and please be mindfully present while doing so. Though you may not get a response equal to the amount of effort it takes for you to follow through on this request, I promise you at some point down the road, you'll look back with an incredible feeling that you too, had your own Christmas miracle reveal itself-- in a most magical, unexpected way.