Care package ideas for the recently widowed.
March 8, 2005 11:57 AM   Subscribe

My father passed away from a rare cancer last week. I'd like to send my mother regular "care packages" to ease her through this transition and let her know I'm thinking of her.

I have many ideas to begin with that revolve around her interests (antiques, gardening, crafting, cats, learning more about computers & the internet). What I'd really like are some suggestions for gifts that pertain to being single for the first time -- my mom grew up in a large family and got married fresh out of college, so this is the first time she's really been on her own (she's 57, lives in Florida).

Cooking for one is a big issue -- she'd especially like to use this time to learn how to cook healthier food for herself. I'd also like some basic home/car repair ideas. Financial guides are less of a concern.

In all, I'm looking for books, magazines, kits, etc. Cost for all this is not an issue.

I live 15 minutes away, so nothing needs to be a sole guidebook for the rest of her life - she has tons of support. She isn't dumb and wasn't sheltered - my dad just happened to take care of so many things. So, I want to give my mom some tools to help her become more independant in this new life she's about to lead.
posted by Sangre Azul to Shopping (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I want to give my mom some tools to help her become more independant
learning more about computers & the internet
Cooking for one is a big issue

A laptop computer.
Cooking classes -- take a starter class with her. Suggest together, as it may deflect her mind about being alone now. Then after completing the class you can push her on to more cooking classes by herself.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:06 PM on March 8, 2005

delia smith had a book out years ago called "one is fun" that is specifically about (reasonably healthy) cooking for one (i don't know if she's famous in the usa, but delia is a bit like the uk's martha stewart only, i suspect, a better cook)
(also, i just read your family tradition comment and it was a sad shock to then hear he had died - i'm really sorry. good luck).
posted by andrew cooke at 12:19 PM on March 8, 2005

Very sorry to hear this - my most heartfelt condolences to you and your family.

Being alone and reminders of being alone are one of the most difficult issues to get through. I never did learn how to cook for one. It seemed like so much work, just to find out that no one was there to appreciate it. I ended up cooking large meals one day a week (to reduce the frequency of being reminded), and then just freezing things. So maybe either make sure that she has a big freezer, or better yet, present yourself often to join her for dinner.

Another really difficult issue is not being of use to anyone anymore, especially after you have cared for someone during a long illness. So, in addition to being there for meals, present yourself often with requests for advice, or for help with small things. Give her reasons to feel useful. Ask her to research an issue on her new laptop; maybe help you find better car insurance rates, for instance. Or ask her to explain why the new cuisine that she researched and has started preparing is so much better for you than how she used to prepare it. Being of use is important in helping stave off depression.

As to how to fix things, why not do a few simple practice things around the house? Make sure she knows where all the shut-off valves are for the gas and water. Show her how to change a washer or faucet knob. Make sure she know the difference between Phillips and flathead. If she's got all that down, go with her to some how-to clinics at Home Depot.

As for gifts/cost/etc, my advice would be to not go too far out of your way for anything; when going through periods of grief people often come up with grand plans that they discard a short time later.
posted by vignettist at 1:07 PM on March 8, 2005

It meets none of your criteria, but I wanted to add it to the list anyway: I don't know how your folks spread out the money management, but if he did a large chunk of it, you might want to have her sit down with a financial planner or CPA. If she didn't manage the money, she'll need to know where it is, how much of it there is, what bills are paid on a regular basis, etc... It's not "fun" and probably not an "interest" but it could be very relieving for her to know that this is one less area she has to worry about now.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:22 PM on March 8, 2005

Does she have AAA (or similar) for roadside service? Even if she doesn't travel far in her car, it's good peace of mind and it's one of those things you're always glad to have, especially in late-night or bad-weather situations.
posted by contessa at 1:24 PM on March 8, 2005

I'd like to send my mother regular "care packages" to ease her through this transition and let her know I'm thinking of her.

There are a lot of transition issues when a spouse dies - disposing of clothes, medicines, books and papers that only the spouse was interested in; etc.; considering a change in where one lives; financial changes (paperwork, if nothing else); role changes (for example, if one spouse handled the money, or made repairs); notifying friends; legal issues (changing car titles, property titles, notifying Social Security); needed repairs around the house; etc. It's not clear from your question if the "tons of support" for your mother include folks (your siblings?) who can help with these issues. If not, then your helping with themwould be of far more benefit to your mother than care packages (food?) or a laptop computer or cooking lessons.

If I were you, I'd focus on what things your mother asks for help with, or with things that have to be done (see above list) where your mother might appreciate your volunteering to help. Right now, she's in transition. Only after she gets through that is it best to focus on longer-term matters (like healthy cooking), unless she specifically asks for help on such matters.

Finally, the most valuable thing that you have to offer your mother (assuming finances are not an issue) is your time - a phone call, a visit, helping her (see above), an outing together, etc. Other things pale by comparison.
posted by WestCoaster at 1:33 PM on March 8, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks to all for the input so far, especially the ideas for making my mom continue to feel useful.

To clarify - my mother has specifically asked for help on the long-term things. We've already done all the big checklist items, much of it while my father was still alive. Most of the upcoming tasks (disposing of the clothes) will be done as a family when we feel we're ready.

By "care package", I mean a compilation of some of the long-term things we might have overlooked or just little items to brighten my mom's day. New parents, college students, homeowners -- you can always find ideas and gifts for those entering these lifestyles. Entering single life for the first time after 35 years of marriage? Not so easy to cater to, IMO.

I guess that's my real question, as much as it can be answered, since no two cases are alike. There's grief to tend to, but also the practical aspects of a lifestyle my mom has never experienced. (The cookbook and AAA ideas are along the lines of what I'm looking for.)
posted by Sangre Azul at 2:48 PM on March 8, 2005

Tools, literally. One of the things that was hard for my Mom to adjust to when my Dad moved out was that he took all the tools. She had never had her own tools or much of an idea of how to use them. Trying to use a random screwdriver she found in a drawer was not any good. I'd recommend getting her her own toolbox and some house/car/computer tools and showing her during visits how to do various things [open up the computer, change a fuse in the car, tighten a washer, hang a picture]. I think for the car AAA is a great idea, and having a small car toolkit with pressuge gauge, fluids, jumper cables, emergency cell phone and other stuff [I keep all mine in a milk carton in the trunk] is a good practical thing she might not get herself and she could probably use. Getting involved with the maintenance schedule for your car is a good way to keep the thing running well and give you something to do at the same time.

As far as readables, magazines like Cooks Illustrated have great, not-super-impossible recipes that are tasty. They also give you some good ideas on useful thing to outfit a kitchen with, cooking tips, etc. Cooking Light is a good magazine for learning to cook healthier, even making pretty much the same food you already made.

My Dad used to say, in-between marriages, that the things he missed most about being in a relationship was having a companion and having a witness to his own life. It sounds like your Mom is fortunate to have support and someone like you looking out for her, see if you [or someone else close to her] can approach the idea of helping be a witness to her life in whatever way would be appropriate to help her feel conencted to people. Just having someone be around to tell them about your stupid day is a huge thing when it's suddenly no longer there.
posted by jessamyn at 6:25 PM on March 8, 2005

Gee, Sangre Azul, I am so sorry. My condolences on your recent loss. You sound like such a caring and sensitive child for a Mom to have - that's already a big gift!

You need some ideas that get your Mom out and circulating in a non-threatening way, both solo and with others.

If she generally did things as part of a couple, it can be very difficult to learn to do things solo so maybe there are ways you can help her ease into this. Doing things alone can be hard - many people have "alone-a-phobia." It sounds simple to me now, but I recall how difficult it was for me once to go to a movie alone, or eat at a good restaurant alone, or go on a trip alone. But it is very liberating when you break that barrier and learn not to have to always depend on or wait for others to do the things you want to do. Of course, it's always fun to do things with others, too, but it's nice ot feel comfortable enough to have the choice.

Giving her a membership in a museum might be a good way to start. Museums can be wonderful places to go alone, to wander at your own pace, and to dine in a cafe for lunch. Lots of people are solo there. Plus, they have special events that members can attend - classes, openings, films, lectures, even trips.

Classes and lessons are good because they will get your Mom out and get her meeting new people while expanding her knowledge, skills, or interests. Sign her up for one, but be sure it is one that will really whet her interest.

Pampering things - a day at a spa, membership at a health club, a certificate for nails to be done, etc. If she will be getting out and about more, and meeting new people, it will help to feel good about herself. Perhaps to even "reinvent" herself with some new fashions or a new 'do.

Find some online communities she might enjoy - metafilter certainly livens up a home-alone Saturday night for many of us and keeps us feeling connected - might work for her too. Help her find the right spots - maybe her "community" might revolve around one of her interest - antiques or gardening.

This loss is so very recent, even if it was expected, so she needs time to grieve. Everyone does it at their own pace. Giving her lots of room for that is an important gift too - some people try to rush the healing. Just keep a loving eye out (as you are) to ensure she doesn't get in a rut.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:02 AM on March 9, 2005

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