What to give a woman with limited time who has everything?
November 14, 2010 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Birthday gift for mother-in-law with ALS?

My mother-in-law is turning 64 and I'd like to get her a thoughtful, appropriate gift. The complication is that she has ALS and this is quite possibly her last birthday.

I do not want the gift to draw attention to her disease by being something that she can no longer use or enjoy because of her illness. However, i am not opposed to something that might make her life with her disease easier. She is limited in her movements these days, but not yet confined to a wheelchair. She has difficulty with hand use, so jewelry and many items of clothing would probably not be appropriate. As with many people her age, she also really doesn't need any more kitschy, knick-knacky stuff, especially given her prognosis.

So, I suppose I am asking for something that can be useful or comforting to her in the coming months. I don't have much experience with this disease, and having focused a lot of energy in the past year on my own now-deceased father's illness, I also don't unfortunately have a lot of direct connection to her struggle. I would like to give her a gift that shows her I love her, care about her, and truly want her to have peace and happiness in the time she has left.
posted by DuckGirl to Human Relations (9 answers total)
My husband's father died of ALS. One of the more meaningful things they did as a family before he became immobile was sit for a professional family portrait that hung at the end of his bed so that he could see them all of the time.

A photo of your wife and you (and family if it so permits) might be a really nice thing for her to have to look at in the coming months.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 5:19 PM on November 14, 2010

This AskMe question has some good ideas for a similar situation.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:59 PM on November 14, 2010

I was also going to suggest a nice framed photo. I know my 55+ family members always appreciate photos. But that may fall in your "kitchy, knick-knack stuff" category.
Personally, I know nothing about ALS, but if your mother-in-law spends a lot of time sitting, cozy items like a snuggie, slippers, or a heating pad could be nice. If you are crafty, you may even consider making one of these. I made a heading pad once by sewing a very simple pillow shape, and filling it with rice. Stick it in the microwave for about 30 seconds, and it's warm, or put it in the freezer for an hour, and it's cold. It's comforting, and hand-made, so it really shows you care.
If you're not a crafty type, you can always check out etsy for cuddly items. There are some lovely afghans for getting comfy on the couch.
posted by ClosetBeauty at 6:03 PM on November 14, 2010

Would it be possible for you to arrange a weekend getaway for just the two of you or something similar where you could find a nice time to do some bonding? My personal opinion is that a person in your mother-in-law's situation might appreciate more hearing what you've already told us (that you love her, care about her, etc) more than any material good.

ALS is a terrible disease; I'm sorry.
posted by coupdefoudre at 6:58 PM on November 14, 2010

ALS is indeed a terrible disease, for everyone involved. My sympathy, also, especially coming so soon after the loss of your father.

I think you should talk with your husband about this. One of the best things to give a mother is the knowledge that your child is in a supportive, loving relationship. The ways you could express this are very individual, but could include things like a scrapbook of "things I did as a kid that I loved and want to do again" (especially if you have/plan to have kids).

I was a hospice volunteer for ALS patients, and books on CD were incredibly welcome, if picked with some care towards her interests. Even better would be if you have the time and energy to record a special book for her, or even just burn a CD with special poems, stories -- whatever. As you become more disabled, continuing to feel like an individual and not just "a person who can't do this or that" becomes more and more important.

Good luck.
posted by kestralwing at 7:25 PM on November 14, 2010

When you have this short amount of time left, stuff becomes less important, and the people around you becomes what matters. A framed photo is a lovely idea and I think she'd love it, but maybe you can go even further and make a video. You don't say how large of a family you've got, but if you and your husband have children and nieces and nephews, maybe shoot a video of everyone telling her how much she means to you and how much you all love her. It might be a bit awkward to film, but she'd treasure that video.

However, the greatest thing you and your husband can give her is your time. Come and see her as often as you can, help out around the house, and if the disease has progressed to the point where she can't do much else, just sit there and talk to her. This would not only make her happy, I bet that when she's gone, you'll be really glad you had that time with her. The best way to show someone that you love them is to be there for them.
posted by gkhan at 8:22 PM on November 14, 2010

nthing all those who suggest your time- few things could replace conversation and a listening ear.

But I understand you want to get something physical, so in that case I'd suggest a digital photo frame, loaded with photos of all of you together, placed somewhere that she'll always be able to see it. She won't have to operate it in any way and it will be a tangible reminder of all the people she loves.

(I'm really sorry.)
posted by psychostorm at 3:22 AM on November 15, 2010

She has difficulty with hand use, so jewelry and many items of clothing would probably not be appropriate. As with many people her age, she also really doesn't need any more kitschy, knick-knacky stuff, especially given her prognosis.

A good friend of mine had ALS, and we often gave each other gifts before the illness and after. I have a sense for what you're going through. Here's my advice.

When you've got ALS, it's boring! You spend a lot of time sitting or in bed or waiting for someone to help you get around, and you've got nothing to do!

So, if she reads, Kindle! Likes movies? Netflix. Likes music? iPod loaded with music.

On the pampering front, a trip to a salon for a shampoo and styling. Vanity doesn't end just because you're having a hard time getting around.

Regarding jewelry and kitsch, you might be surprised at what your mother-in-law wants.

If she liked kitschy stuff or jewelry before she got ALS, she probably likes it now. ALS makes some things harder, but it doesn't automatically mean a wardrobe change.

Depending on how your mother-in-law dresses now and how much help she has getting dressed, she may still want to dress the way she always has and wear jewelry and scarves. It depends on her outlook and what she cares about.

Good luck. ALS is a tough disease for the person who's got it, but everyone else too. I hope some of these suggestions are helpful.
posted by zippy at 6:13 AM on November 15, 2010

ALS sucks. My father died two months ago after an eight-year battle.

He really enjoyed a digital picture frame that rotated family pictures. A sound system and DVR helped with long nights. Books on CD were good. My dad also really liked online poker, because he could then still play cards. I'm not sure what your MIL's hobbies were/are, but taking the time to figure out an adaptive way to continue them is good.
posted by quadrilaterals at 7:20 AM on November 15, 2010

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