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Avoiding the gift of guilt: gifts for the chronically ill

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Avoiding the gift of guilt: gifts for the chronically ill
If you know someone who has a chronic illness, one of your first thoughts is to get them a "thinking of you" gift. However well-intentioned your initial impulse may be, however, this is probably not a good idea for most would-be recipients who have multiple medical issues. In many cases, the intended recipient may not be able to have the item in question due to allergies, limited mobility, or any of dozens of other possible reasons.

You probably don't intend for your gift to say, "Enjoy, and have a nice trip to the Emergency Room", but that is what happens in many cases when a random gift is sent. Foods, personal care products, even a bouquet of flowers can and do trigger symptoms in the chronically ill. First and foremost, a chronically ill person does not need extra stress, and a bad reaction will stress them personally and stress their bodies. Unless you know every single one of their medical issues, don't send things unless you talk to them first about the specific item you would like to send to them.

Don't buy random foods or products on the internet because of the touted "health benefits" of that product. This places the burden of research on the recipient to determine if they can have or otherwise use the item.

Don't be Auntie Edna who made a big platter of her special dessert and will get her feelings hurt if you don't eat it. If she has decided that her feelings are more important than your health, and you feel up to it, donate it to a thrift store or food pantry depending on the item. Otherwise, give yourself permission to toss things in the trash (unopened) when they arrive.

Tip: The most important thing the remember is to ask the person what would be helpful, useful, or what they would like. They may have a wishlist already.

Give the gift of time

One of the best things you can offer to someone who is chronically ill is the gift of your time. This is an easy thing to do, and in most cases won't even take much time. It can be difficult to go out or even to get around the house, so a helping hand is something many people will gladly accept when asked.

If you live locally to the person, ask them if they need something from stores when you go shopping. If you can save them a trip to the supermarket or pharmacy by picking up an item for them, it is a big help. On the other hand, maybe they would like to go out -- can you drive them somewhere to pick up an item, take them to an appointment, or just help them get out of the house for an hour?

Ask if help might be needed around the house. This one may or may not be feasible depending on that person's medical issues. Any yard work that you might be able to do such as snow shoveling or lawn mowing would probably be helpful if their mobility is limited, as is reaching for items which are out of reach on high or low shelves. It is not helpful to show up with a bunch of chemical cleaners to clean the house if the person is reactive to those cleaners, so do ask if there are particular cleaning products you can use while in their house.

Say it with cash

Cash is a gift that is always the right colour and keeps on giving.

Many chronically ill people are forced to make a choice between food, housing costs, and medications due to financial issues. If you are in a good financial position, ask if there is anything you can do to help pay for basic needs which they are unable to cover.

Similarly, you can ask about things they might want or enjoy having. A book lover might like gift cards to order more books. Someone who does crafts such as woodworking might need cash to special order specific supplies they need for their projects. This is very specific to that person, so you will have to ask first.

If you are feeling generous, consider making a donation to official organization for the person's illness such as the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, or the Alzheimer's Society. This can do a lot of good for a lot of people.

For children with a chronic illness

Kids are a special case when it comes to gift giving due to class parties and events. Everyone wants to load children up on sugar and junk food during parties, but how much of it will they actually be able to have due to medical issues? Instead of candy and junk, consider non-food options for holiday events.


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