Should we bring a gift to a terminally ill friend? Kate Bowler, who has stage IV colon cancer, says by all means bring a gift! Kate is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School and author of the book, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.”
Kate writes, “Bring me presents. Bring me anything. Chocolate. A potted plant. A set of weird erasers.” Kate continues, “I remember the first gift I got that wasn’t about cancer, and I was so happy I cried. Send me funny emails filled with YouTube clips to watch during chemotherapy. Do something that suits your gifts: One friend knits me socks and another drops off cookies, and still another writes a funny email or takes me to a concert. But most important, bring me presents!”
You need to read between the lines a little bit with the phrase, “Bring me presents!” It’s not the dollar value of the gift that matters, it’s the message the gift sends. As Kate reminds us: “These seemingly small efforts are anchors that hold me to the present, that keep me from floating away on thoughts of an unknown future. They say to me, like my sister Maria did on one very bad day: ‘Yes, the world is changed, dear heart, but do not be afraid. You are loved. You will not disappear. I am here.’”
Kate’s wisdom about gifts to the terminally ill is an important one. In my caregiving ministry, I’ve learned that individuals spend a lot of time reflecting on the memorable events of their lives while they’re in the process of dying. So, anything that facilitates that process will be something they’ll appreciate.
For example, you could collect from family and friends pictures which can be loaded onto an electronic picture frame. Recently, a dear friend of ours was diagnosed with a terminal disease. We gave him a small framed photo that contained an image of him with his daughter (who is now an adult) when she was a young girl. I believe that during the weeks ahead that picture will be on the table next to his chair, providing comfort and fond memories.
Gifts are one way to support your friend on his or her journey of dying. They are, as Kate Bowler reminds us, worth so much more than the money invested to buy or make it.
For more reading and resources, please visit our Being a Friend to the Terminally Ill page.