Perspectives: On the True Gifts of Christmas

By Gregg Ratliff

Occasionally, Nancy and I would experience a rough emotional week. Most of the time when my dear wife displayed more tears than usual, I did not allow it to influence my own disposition. Some days she was able to communicate with her eyes and some days she was not. I remember one particular December day when she could move her eyes to communicate with me she told me that she was feeling “sad” and “depressed.” Of course, that broke my heart! On days like this I would vary our daily activities in an attempt to avoid the “routine” and pick up her spirits. For example, I would play audio book for her, downloaded some music and read to her more than usual, all of which seemed to help – some. The Christmas season was always Nancy’s favorite season and I suppose her inability to “experience Christmas” by shopping, having a “tea party” with her girlfriends, and just generally participating in the hustle and bustle of her favorite season affected her normally cheerful attitude. Nancy’s “love language” was gift giving.

I did my very best during Nancy’s illness to buy gifts for our family and friends, as Nancy would do it, if she could. But, I have to admit I was a mere amateur gift giver compared to Nancy. The toughest call for me during this particular Christmas season was “what can I get for my special girl?” in light of her limitations. I offered to “lasso the moon” for her (As George Bailey offered Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life) but that didn’t seem to interest her. So, I attempted to give her a few thoughtful gifts but nothing seems to be special enough for my esoteric gift giving partner and my desire to delight her in consideration of all that she was experiencing.

Ask any child or grandchild what they want for Christmas and they will provide you a laundry list of commercialized products: toys, video games, and technological instruments like iPods, iPhones, iPads, etc. Really? Really! I think they see Mom & Dad “playing” with these “toys” many of their waking hours so they begin to think, “Me too!” But, then if we go to the other end of the age spectrum and ask our aging parents or grandparents what they would like and we’re very likely to hear “Oh, nothing.” or “I don’t need anything.” or “I just want to be with my family.” Their wisdom from age and maturity has provided them the perspective that “things” are expendable but family and relationships are not. As Nancy and I had a lot of time to ponder what was really important, I think we found ourselves embracing our parents and grandparents perspective more and more.

I have a friend, of over 30 years, that use to lament the fact that he and his father were estranged. I encouraged him over and over through the years to take the first step in reconciling their relationship. Unfortunately, he and his father both refused and now his father has passed away. I can’t help but think “How sad and what a waste.” Pride can be such a barrier to good things in life and after life.

As we experience the “gift giving” holiday season let’s keep the right perspective. Let’s love and treasure the time with our loved ones. They are more important than things. Remember….

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God’s gift, that’s why we call it the present.”

Today’s blog post is part of a recurring monthly series from our good friend Gregg Ratliff. In 2009, Gregg’s wife Nancy was diagnosed with ALS, and he became her full-time caregiver for the next seven years. In his series, “Perspectives: It’s All in How You Look at it,” Gregg will share his insights on ALS and the impact it has on families. 

For more information on resources available to caregivers of loved ones with ALS, please visit

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