Through the years, we have learned that people like to be remembered and celebrated for something happy or be consoled when something sad occurs. At these times, we want to be surrounded by loved ones and hugged and even gifted with booze, wine and comfort foods to lift our spirits.
When such things happen to people we care about, we don’t understand those who remain silent and do nothing. This isn’t our style. It’s not about how much anybody spends—few can compete with Oprah or Ellen with their TV studio-gift giveaways. But we believe that it’s important to show we care about those who mean a lot to us through acts of respect and kindness.
After all, how many really close friends and family members does anybody need to recognize in this way? Probably, a limited circle, especially as we age and more disappear from our lives due to moves, illnesses and deaths.
The two of us learned many of these lessons about right versus wrong from our parents and now we’re getting refresher courses from our grown kids. We may not always agree with their approaches, but we like to hear how they handle certain situations when we’re in doubt.
It’s also human nature, we think, to pay heed to what other relatives and friends do for us. Some forget because of their busy, stressed lives; others do less than we might for a variety of reasons. Some do nothing because they don’t think it’s necessary. It’s not that life should be tit-for-tat, that’s not how we operate. We also think that expectations are unhealthy, so we try to banish them from our heads.
However, giving of one's time to comfort someone who has had a loss or toast somebody celebrating a happy milestone is important, and not to be ignored is part of our rule book. Any number of steps can be taken to show we care.
We’ve been asked multiple times about how we handle different scenarios. The bottom line is that there’s no right or wrong, but we can offer our tip sheet for those wondering how they might live life with grace, thoughtfulness and generosity. As a difficult 2020-year fades from our rear-view mirror and a new year is underway, we hope our suggestions are appreciated for their main purpose—as possibilities rather than must-dos.
Birthdays. Most of us want our birthdays noted in some way, although exceptions exist. One friend of Margaret’s in St. Louis refuses to acknowledge any of her birthdays. We may not want the number of years shouted from the rooftops, but we like to be remembered on our special day in some modest way. The two of us each prefer a card or phone call, though an email or FB message is okay but a bit less personal. A text is better than nothing.
At our age we rarely expect a gift since there’s little we need. Then again, if you must, we love food—fabulous ice cream, really good chocolate, decent wine, a donation to an organization we care about, but, please, don’t regift us, and we won’t regift you! If you forget, we’re fine with belated wishes. See how easy we are?
Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, Confirmations, Showers and Weddings. In the age of coronavirus, events such as these are far smaller, so you may not make the cut to the in-person event, if there is one. The art of hosting a Zoom shower or wedding is being finetuned, and if you include us or we include you, we like the idea of sending a card and/or a gift. We understand if you’re not going into stores, however, there are dozens of online registries or you can select your own gift online, send a gift certificate, make a donation or send a check.
How much to spend? Of course, it depends on your level of closeness and budget. You can forget the rule about spending the cost of the meal since who’s eating together these days? People like round numbers as attested to in an article in the science section of the Washington Post, “Why researchers are 100 percent sure we love round numbers,” by Susan D’Agostino (Nov. 7, 2020). For example, consider $25, $50, $100 or even $200 if you can. Again, no regifting, please. The only acceptable excuse for not doing anything is…well, we don’t think there is except being extremely sick or caring for someone who is. (See below about illnesses). But if you don’t, it’s not a hanging offense!
When to send? While the etiquette police say you have up to a year to send a wedding gift, we haven’t checked timelines for other events. When you wait, it might send the wrong message, “Hey, I’m so much busier and more important than you.” Maybe you are. We’re not expecting anything from Joe Biden or Kamala Harris these days.
Graduations. We don’t think every graduation has to merit a gift unless you’re really close to the graduate or their parents or the graduation is incredibly significant such as finishing a Ph.D. (in education for Dr. Jill Biden) or M.D. (in infectious diseases for Dr. Fauci) or for an older friend who goes back to college to finish a degree and then deserves extra kudos, we think. Sending a lovely card is fine, too; those Papyrus ones with the gold seals for $5.95 and up speak volumes. Slipping a small check in warrants extra thanks. And a gift card—from Starbuck’s, Crate & Barrel or our new favorite online retailer, Food52, for something for their first home makes it even nicer. If the recipient is searching for a job, cash again is thoughtful or how about a gift certificate to a lovely restaurant since eating out may not be on their can-afford-to-do list.
Housewarmings. Again, a gift is really unnecessary but nice unless you’re invited to the house for a party, and that’s not likely to happen in most cases these days. If it’s an individual or couple’s first home, we think why not acknowledge the milestone with a bottle of wine, magazine subscription or if you live nearby a homemade cake, bread or even fixings for breakfast such as a dozen bagels, package of cream cheese (points for cream cheese with scallions or chopped veggies) and some smoked salmon. If you don’t feel that generous—and good hand-sliced, double-smoked Nova Scotia salmon runs about $59 a pound or $30 for 8 ounces from our benchmarks for quality, Zabar’s or Russ & Daughters in NYC, substitute a jar or two of imported jam or a few wedges of ripe runny cheeses.
Illnesses and accidents. In our age group, everyone’s getting sick or having an operation of some kind, some more serious than others, so we think why start? And if it’s cataract surgery that could mean two gifts for each eye. A new knee, one new hip or one new shoulder could also lead to constant gift exchanges since so many we know are experiencing these repairs.
Instead, we think why not extend some kindness by visiting with a mask if deemed safe and you’ve both been vaccinated, sending a book, preparing and sending a full meal rather than a fruit basket or having flowers or a plant delivered. All will help cheer up anybody and are considered in good taste. Some temples and churches send food. In certain communities, groups of friends like to send a “group” gift such as dinner delivered by a local caterer or restaurant. Or organize a meal train where several friends sign up to help, so the sick person isn’t inundated with five meat loafs one night. And by the way, find out if they eat red meat or prefer roasted chicken. The point is to do something in addition to calling to ask, “Are you okay?” or “Hope you heal quickly.” Do that, too, however.
Divorces and miscarriages. These represent sad, terrible times that rarely get acknowledged so do something nice. The first scenario often gets gossiped about and the second is rarely discussed yet causes huge heartache as Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, wrote a few months ago in an op-ed article in the New York Times. Invite the person over for a meal or take them out when it’s safe again. Drop chocolates at their front door. Include them when we return to movie theaters. Single folks especially like to be thought of as worthy company so try to include them as we suggested a few years back in a blog post by inviting them over or out on a weekend night rather than midweek. Many of us will be single at some time so this is an important lesson to master now.
Deaths. Again, we’re not going to wakes and Shivas as we did in pre-COVID days, when we were taught it was rarely acceptable to show up without something to help feed the mourner and family. Food consoles us for sure and nourishes our spirits when we’re very sad.
Few are invited to the services these days; even fewer to the home. In place of in-person events are virtual funerals, wakes and Shivas. With these, you get off the hook of bringing something on the large scale. No need for a sumptuous deli platter with cute radish flowers, big vegetarian lasagna to feed the family or even a tray or two of brownies and other sweets like lemon bars.
A few servings of your favorite chicken Piccata, six of the fresh apple-cider cinnamon doughnuts we mastered recently, a bottle of wine or gift certificate to a favorite restaurant when eating in or taking-out are possibilities. All are thoughtful and generous. Also, take the time to write a condolence note, send a card and contribute to a cause the family selects if you have the funds. If you didn’t see mention of a favorite charity in an obit, ask a family member or give to a cause you think they would like.
We think all these ideas will make a recipient smile, feel special and loved, and isn’t that our goal? These days as we continue to be at home more and with fewer social obligations, we take the attitude: Everyone should find some time to be kind?