What Gift Do You Get for Someone Who’s Dying?

I love Christmas. I’m one of those saps who listen to Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. I love putting up the tree. And for someone who’s normally a self-centered egomaniac, I enjoy buying Christmas gifts for other people.

Cheesy? Maybe, but there is a genuine, warm feeling that comes with the holiday.

Sure, Christmas is all big business now. It encourages materialism. It’s a distorted version of what the holiday once was. Whatever you say.

For me, there’s no day like it. Maybe it’s the combination of being with your family, inside from the cold, and giving each other stuff—regardless of how forced it is. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something about it that just feels, well, good.

But what if you can’t give enough?

Over at Salon, Tracy Clark-Flory wrote about how her father’s going through his last Christmas with his wife, who’s dying from lung cancer:

When your partner is dying, the idea of a shiny new Lexus as a symbol of commitment—to anything other than monthly payments—becomes particularly odious; “diamonds are forever” takes on depressing new meaning (because life isn’t forever). No, love isn’t “a car in the driveway with a big bow on top.” It’s pushing a wheelchair. It’s cutting off all of your lover’s hair as it begins to fall out in large clumps during chemo, and massaging that patchy head to give her one of the few physical pleasures left to her. It’s laughing while browsing a wig shop where the only other customer is a transvestite prostitute. It’s relearning how to cook after three decades of marriage. It’s giving shots through a layer of belly fat. It’s sitting side-by-side in a hospital bed watching TV.

Go read the whole thing, and don’t let anyone at work see you cry. At the end, Clark-Flory raises a heart-wrenching question that none of us ever want to face, but all probably will.

“What kind of Christmas present do you get for someone who’s dying?”

A necklace? A car? None of that matters. So what do you do?

Clark-Flory’s father has given his wife everything, but what do you do on Christmas day? Do you not give anything? What isn’t trivial when you’re staring down the face of death? But you still have to get something, don’t you? What would you do? Let us know in the comments.

—Photo Lin Pernille ♥ Photography/Flickr


About Ryan O'Hanlon

Ryan O'Hanlon is the managing editor of the Good Men Project. He used to play soccer and go to college. He's still trying to get over it. You can follow him on Twitter @rwohan.


  1. My wife is dying this will be her last Christmas. It’s been a 4 ling years of battling cancer. I googled the headline that brought me here in desperation with only days to go what meaningful gift could there possibly be? I know one thing for sure it’s not at the mall or Amazon. I know I’ve looked. Thank you all for activating this once creative and always loving brain of mine. God bless you all. May you never have to deal with this too spioon in your lives. Gary

  2. calhawk says:

    The best gift I could think of was an embroidered blanket! http://www.warmembrace.com has some of the most beautiful blankets and everything they stand for is INCREDIBLE!!!!! I highly suggest checking it out!

  3. It may sound glib/cheesy but I’d probably write a poem or short essay/letter to express how much they mean to me. Being a writer, that’s a form of expression that comes naturally to me.

    I’ve been feeling some trepidation around this lately. I’m 25, and my parents are in their 50s. A couple recent hospital visits have me thinking about what’s going to happen as they age and what my role is in taking care of them if and when their health starts to decline. Frankly it scares the crap out of me. Hospitals, illness, nursing homes make me very uncomfortable, and on top of that, I just don’t know how to act, what to do or say, how much help they need and what I’m expected to provide. I can only hope that they still have a while before such care is an immediate need, and that I’ve grown up more and figured out how to handle it by then.

  4. …this topic sucks ! for no other reason but having to deal with such a real problem at such an “unreal” time of year.

    Everyones comments are all so true and so fitting ! but Ive got a different scenario….

    What about for the single older brother, who has no dependants or significant others…he’s very much a loner, but not in a negative way…he just keeps everything to himself… Too proud to ask for help, too private to share his feelings or fears…

    …all we seem to be able to give is our time and service at the drop of a hat, if its ever asked for !!!

    Merry XMas !!!


  5. I made my mom a house coat, and embroidered in the inside “To hug you when I can’t. I love you mom”
    and I made a book thru creative memories that accounts for all of my mothers life 🙂

    • Ross Gardler says:

      That is perfect! Thank you. I’m trying to buy for my mum who is 8000 miles away in a different country. I can’t be there other than in spirit. This is the perfect suggestion – thank you!

  6. These are all excellent suggestions. What perceptive and kind comments!

  7. ViveLeRamen says:

    You buy her a nice dress and slow dance in the living room. You spend hours cooking Christmas dinner with the children while singing carols at the top of your lungs. You kiss under the mistletoe. You volunteer at a soup kitchen. You stop by the neighbors with cookies and wish them a merry Christmas. You make snowmen. You roast marshmallows. You eat s’mores. You do all the things they do in movies that no one does in real life. And then you snuggle up on the couch and watch TCM until the kids fall asleep on the rug.

  8. Martin King says:

    Thank you for addressing the subject of what to give as a gift to a dying loved one. Being short of miracles, false hopes and the beautiful lie, I think that the very kind and loving thoughts posted on this board covered the solution very well. Your presence, support, attention, and just being there when appropriate with our loved one is a beautiful and compassionate way of saying I love you.

    I think in this busy world that we live in, we have underestimated the the importance and power that just “being present” can bring to someone who is seriously ill. It costs nothing to give, yet the value is indeed, priceless.

  9. A note expressing how you feel that they can hold and read and reread.

  10. Lisa Hickey says:

    I would create a video of the persons life, buy them the softest, warmest blanket I could find and give a kiss and a hug that seemed to last forever.

  11. Something soothing, a massage, financial help with medications, support for the family, time, attention, help with household chores, laundry service and love, lots and lots of love 🙂

  12. The only present… and the one that will matter most is your presence.

  13. Fredericka says:

    so I read it at work and now I am crying. I guess the only thing you can give someone who is dying at Christmas is your love and your time and your attention. What a special reminder about the “true meaning” of Christmas.


  1. […] This is a comment by ViveLeRamen on the post “What Gift Do You Get for Someone Who’s Dying?“ […]

  2. […] What Gift Do You Get for Someone Who’s Dying? Tracy Clark-Flory’s awful (necessary) question. […]

  3. […] had an amazing response to today’s post on Tracy Clark-Flory’s heart-wrenching account of her mother’s last Christmas with her […]

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