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Birthday presents? I’d prefer your presence - Caroline Flint

Blog | By Caroline Flint | Jul 15, 2022

The gift of love: FaceTime

Caroline Flint doesn’t want flowers, chocolates or endless packaging. Conversation – in the flesh or online – is a much bigger treat

In our family at the moment, life is quite hard.

My beloved husband is ill – slowly dying. He has led a good life and is very old but, I am not really ready to lose him. I still enjoy his company and his wit. We chat and debate (and argue) after 57 years of happy marriage – so we are very blessed.

But, as all carers know, his demands are frequent: ‘Please can you give me my other glasses. Please can you pick up the remote control from the floor. Please can you move my leg; it feels sore and stiff.’

At least he always says please and thank you.

Every 20 to 30 minutes, he needs my attention. I also cook the lunch and phone for different services. I collect books from the other room and replace what he is reading. It takes all my time and all my attention. After all, I am 80, very frail and weak and unable to walk properly.

So when my birthday was approaching, I asked everyone to refrain from sending presents. None at all, please. Presents are such a responsibility.

My best present is your presence. Best of all is if you visit and have coffee or tea (made by you).

Second best but still very enjoyable is a FaceTime phone call and a chat, or Zoom. If those are unmanageable, you could try a phone call or a letter – but please No Presents.

I should have saved my breath. I am aware that this is a first-world problem and that I sound like a spoiled and over-indulged woman. I know that people I love only wanted to show that they loved me.

But I was reduced to a sobbing, hysterical wreck at my birthday, surrounded by flowers, which are a lot of work. They have to be taken out of their large cardboard box; the ends cut off; a vase or container searched for; flower food put in. They are lovely, but I am too frail to carry anything as heavy as water, so they’re a huge strain – and then what happens when they die?

And the cardboard box – who takes that to recycling? I can’t. I rarely leave home. Everything comes in huge cardboard boxes – so much packaging.

Then come the cakes, scones, jam and cream – all lovely but overwhelming. That small box of florentines in the biggest cardboard box they could find. I have always had problems with my weight. I try to eat sensibly – not to gorge on scones and jam.

And what about the chocolates? At least I could put those in the entrance hall of our flats. Anyone who fancied one could help themselves. And again – more cardboard boxes to dispose of.

Thankfully, my son, who lives nearby, answered my call for help. I gave him the cakes, scones, cream, cheese and jam.

I may give him the voucher for a tea for two at a posh restaurant. I haven’t left my flat for nearly a year – why did my friend feel compelled to buy me something I can’t use and she couldn’t afford?

I’m sorry to be ungrateful but I made it quite clear I didn’t want presents. They are overwhelming when life is overwhelming enough. But the pleasure a visit brings is unbelievable. My husband perks up: someone fresh to talk to. Someone with new views, who has been to see a new play or film, or to the Children’s Park in Kew Gardens, or the latest exhibition at the V&A.

All of this is listened to intensely, discussed or laughed at. Occasionally, there are tears or criticism.

I loved the description of the new Tube stations. Or the bike ride our sons did from Betws-y-Coed to London – all grist to the mill. All enjoyable. All worthy of discussion.

When people come to see me, they don’t need to bring anything. But if they do, I get them to put the flowers in a vase or serve the cake and take the cardboard box with them.

FaceTime is a delight. Twice or more times a week, our daughter pops up on a screen in our sitting room, eating her lunch or dinner and chatting to us at the same time. Bringing in the fresh air of her life in the country, the doings of our youngest grandchild, the bats outside of an evening.

Zoom brings an old school friend into our sanctuary, to tell us what she has been doing, where she has been, how her grandchildren and children are faring – such a treat and a million, billion times better than a burdensome present.

So what I am really trying to say is that if someone says that they don’t want any presents – they mean it. Presents are a tremendous burden when you are already overburdened.