Working in a bookstore, something I normally love, was a nightmare yesterday. Shoppers, desperate to buy last-minute gifts, trashed the store and demanded that I assist them NOW, despite the fact that I was clearly assisting three other customers at that moment. Black Friday has become Black Weekend, Boxing Day sales have already begun, and people are spending more than they can afford. To what end?
Giving a gift is a sign of affection, but do we have to wait until Christmas to show our affection for those we love? Why do we overspend and overexert ourselves at Christmas? Charities also make calls at this time of year. Those that I give to regularly refuse to believe that I don’t have sufficient funds at this time. Is it because I overspent on gifts? Not this year!
This summer, my friend and neighbour was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, a form of cancer for which the prognosis is very poor. We have lived in the same building for more than 20 years and, although he is a private person (as am I), he has always been kind to me and to our other neighbours.
Having been trained in medical transcription, and having gone through the process of helping my sister when she was diagnosed with uterine and ovarian cancer, I vowed that my friend and neighbour would not be alone in his battle. As he is without family in the city and has few (but close) friends, I accompanied him to every doctor’s appointment, including the one at which he was diagnosed and given the frightening statistics about this insidious form of cancer. I went with him for every chemotherapy session, and visited him in the hospital after (miraculously!) he was deemed to be a candidate for surgery.
In order to do these things, I had to miss many shifts at my job at the bookstore. Several staff members were kind enough to cover my shifts, and to them I am very grateful. Unbeknownst to him or his family, my wages for the months my friend was ill were dismal. I even had to borrow money from my parents this past month to pay my bills and avoid going into debt.
I am not a particularly unselfish person, nor am I trying to sing my own praises. What I did was perfectly ordinary and necessary. Having been hospitalised many times myself, sometimes for months at a time, I had a close friend who visited me regularly. I lost her to cancer several years ago, but I still recall how much her visits meant to me.
Since then, I have tried always to visit the sick. It is one thing I can do effectively. The Canadian Health Care System is now such that one needs an advocate when ill and, having been trained in medical transcription, I know enough to discuss treatment options and pain management with doctors, nurses, and/or pharmacists. This is something I can do that others cannot, and therefore I do so when I can.
Recently, while my friend was recovering from the very complex surgery he underwent, I bought a pair of soft slippers with good traction as a Christmas gift for my sister at the hospital gift shop. (She has hardwood floors, so I thought the slippers would be a perfect gift for her.) When I went to visit my friend, he was away from his room, undergoing some tests. As I waited, I chatted with his roommate, an elderly woman who had just undergone a similar surgery. She was optimistic and full of good humour, but her one complaint was that her feet were always cold.
In my backpack were the slippers I’d bought for my sister. Hesitating for only a moment, I pulled them out and gave them to her. They gave her comfort, and she was tickled that I just happened to have warm slippers in my backpack! When I told my sister why she would receive one less gift this Christmas, she thanked me.
This year, my family will receive few gifts from me, but they know the reason for this, and they are supportive of my choice to be there for my friend and neighbour. He is slowly recovering from the surgery, and I can’t imagine a better gift for Christmas! He still faces a great deal of time and personal effort before achieving a complete recovery, but he is now cancer-free.
I have, over these past few months, learned more about him than I did during the previous 20 years. He is an even better man than I realised. The doctors and nurses who performed what, for them, is “simply” their job, made his recovery possible. I only hope that I made it more bearable.
Yes, I faced a financial burden as a consequence of my actions, but it was money I would probably have spent unnecessarily on Christmas gifts for my family. The time I spent with my friend was time I consider beneficial for me as well as for him. My family cares not one whit that they will receive few gifts from me this Christmas.
My point is that one can and should give of oneself whenever the opportunity arises. Christmas, as many know, has become overly commercialised, with many people using credit cards to buy gifts for which they will pay appalling interest rates. We make the same mistake year after year, even when our loved ones have a surplus of material goods.
I witnessed this yesterday in my bookstore. I am happy that people consider books to be worthwhile gifts, but I am disconcerted when I see them trying one credit card after another when they have insufficient funds. If your friends and family knew the sacrifice you were making to buy them gifts, they would tell you not to.
Give when you can. Hold back when you need to recover your strength and finances. Christmas is not the only time to show one’s love, and material goods are quickly forgotten and set aside.
I will never forget my friend who made my confinement in the hospital more tolerable. I miss her dearly; but were she still alive, I know that she would approve of the choices I’ve made. Material gifts given at a certain time of year are nothing compared to the time, energy, and comfort one can offer throughout the year.
May you have a wonderful Christmas, filled with love, family and friends. Remember, though, that situations will arise throughout the year that will tax you financially and physically. Christmas is just one day of that year.