House plants and outdoor growing things are like children to me and every year I leaf through the seed and bulb catalogues salivating over the beautiful colours, fine greenery and just the simple wonder of it all. I'd love to be able to order some of those plants, seeds and trees, but I've learnt that unless there is someone willing to plant them for me they will sit in their box and die while I watch. I am simply not strong enough to stand up, much less dig a hole or lift pots and soil.
When Christmas and anniversaries come along, I no longer have to think about what I want from my husband, siblings and friends. I ask them for their time and energy to do something "special" for me, such as plant a tree or lug a whole mess of geraniums home from the nursery in the spring and plant them where I want them or rearrange my library or mend my clothes or put away some of my treasures and pull out stored ones.
Some may think it is cruel that these are my gifts, but my husband already looks after the house, the car, the business, me and the dog. My relatives and friends, for the most part, simply don't have a clue what it's like to have the grip strength of two pounds and not be able to stand any longer than four or five minutes or take a step without falling.
These gifts of time, energy and strength are the gifts I treasure, and some of them last forever. Trees my husband has planted for me are now ten feet tall and they are a lasting remembrance of a special Christmas or birthday. Things my sister, mother and friends have done for me that I couldn't do myself stay in my memory much longer than any material gift would have.
There are several rules that make the whole thing work for the persons you are helping, and they are : Give of yourself physically, not necessarily mentally. In other words, don't try to tell the person how to do what they want done; let them tell you how they want it done. This way you are truly giving away your strength but not taking away their autonomy. You are a vehicle through which their wishes are performed.
The second rule is to try to do whatever it is that they'd like done, when they want it done, not when you can do it. Negotations are only realistic, but by perhaps putting yourself out just a little, your time is a true gift and the giving doesn't wait until you can fit it in. The last thing is : set a time limit. That way they will plan what they want done ahead of time and you won't feel used. When the time is up, it is up to you if you wish to extend it or you can simply say that they are working on their time for the next special occasion. Or if you like, quit and both parties will know that it is a fair excahnge. Follow these simple guidelines and I guarantee you'll feel wonderful and so will the person to whom you've given.
The next time you wonder what to give as a gift to the person who seems to have everything but their health, try writing a card that says, "To you I give two hours of my time and strength to do whatever you'd like to do in your home or out of it, whenever you'd like to do it." The possibilities are endless.
I found this in the December 1994 issue of the Rehabilitation Digest. I haven't yet asked the author for permission - does anyone know how I could get in contact with her? - so I presume posting the above on one's web page is horribly illegal.