The Gift That Matters Most to Those in Need

At this time of year and always, these blessings can comfort, support, and boost all those facing serious illness in their lives

It’s tough to find the right holiday gift for a loved one or friend at this time of year — and even tougher when that loved one is battling a serious illness.

Beyond the physical pain the person may be suffering, there’s the pain and stress of isolation and of worry.

Before you go out and spend a bunch of money on something people may not want or need, understand that the best gift is you, suggests psychologist Gretchen Kubacky of Los Angeles. A veteran of 24 surgeries, she suggests in-person check-ins instead of texts, emails or phone messages.

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“Check in repeatedly and make specific offers of help,” she told LifeZette in an interview. “Don’t breezily say, ‘Hey, let me know if you need help with anything!’ and feel like you’ve done your duty. Offer things like taking someone to a followup appointment with the doctor, emptying and changing the cat litter twice a week, taking the trash out, or organizing the massive pile of insurance paperwork.”

“Being alone is one of the most painful parts of illness,” she said. “You don’t have to say much. Just be there.”

Spend time. A veteran of several surgeries and hospital visits as a child, Mikhael Levkovsky of San Francisco remembers receiving movies and toys — but he also remembers visits from other people most fondly. “The gift of time, comfort, and humor was something that can’t be bought, but was the most valuable,” he told LifeZette.

His hospital experiences inspired him to found a company called with a phone app specifically designed to let users send special gifts anywhere in the U.S., with personalized followup notes as well.

Related: What My Hospital Roommates Taught Me About God

Lend an ear. Kubacky urges people to be honest and willing to discuss anything with a friend who might be coming to terms with a potentially terminal illness.

“Talk openly, honestly, and repeatedly about what it’s like to be terminally ill,” he said. “I was the only one who did this with my stepfather when he was dying from bladder cancer, and he expressed great gratitude for it.”

Choose something unique. Former medical social worker Jill Johnson-Young, of Riverside, California, is a double widow. She remembers feeling her stress drain away when meals were delivered in disposable foil trays, with paper plates and plastic utensils (metal makes food taste worse for those in chemotherapy).

For someone battling cancer, a unique gift for each day of chemo can be a nice idea. Other recommendations include skin and body care formulas for chronic pain and inflammation, as well as soothing teas.

“No one who is dealing with a difficult situation wants to ask for help. But I had friends who simply cleaned for me, when I wasn’t home, or washed my car … It was so reassuring.”

Special products for illnesses are popular, too, especially ones that offer more fashionable alternatives. Mother and daughter Elizabeth and Summer Scarbrough, of Ventura, California, devised My Air™, an advanced filtration mask that comes in 20 fabrics. The filter membranes reduce moisture loss by 88 percent and block 99.997 percent of viruses, bacteria, allergens, and contaminants. It can be used by patients — or visitors when a patient is autoimmune-compromised.

No matter the gift, choose one, said Marta Simes, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. When her husband was dying, she found comfort from friends who brought gifts not only for her husband, but also for her. Caregivers deal with stress and debilitating emotions when a loved one is ill.

“My best advice is don’t ask, just do,” she told LifeZette. “No one who is dealing with a difficult situation wants to ask for help. But I had friends who simply cleaned for me, when I wasn’t home, or washed my car or mowed the lawn. They made sure there was always some comforting food in my home, as well as the essentials. It was so reassuring.”

Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating. This piece originally appeared in LifeZette last year and has been updated.