Gift in the midst of cancer for someone you don't know well?
December 14, 2013 5:40 PM   Subscribe

My beloved dog walker has been battling with cancer - and it sounds like she's losing. What can I give her and her partner as a Christmas/New Year's gift in the midst of this?

So, back in 2005, I asked this question and Metafilter said, "get a dog walker instead!"

And I did and she's been amazing. I was one of the first clients to her start up business and I've seen it grow and extend, but she's always gone out of her way for my dog, my tortoise (when we're out of town) and our family. She's given me mugs and tote bags with my dog on it. She once gave me a painting of my dog's paw print - like a baby footprint - that I cherish. She got my dog over her fears. She taught her to heel. When she was going for her dog training certification, she borrowed our dog and trained her to do basic tricks. She's let me in the house when I've locked myself out, even when my dog wasn't with her. Her partner (who joined the business when it got bigger) and her have been amazing to us. And our dog loves them.

She's been battling cancer for a while. I've made supportive noises, but I honestly don't know what to say or do. Now we've found out she's doing hospice at home and that things are not looking good.

In the past, we've given them champagne and cookies, PetSmart gift cards, gourmet food basket things. But this year it all seems wrong. Also, I don't believe they have dogs of their own anymore (with so many around for boarding) and I know she's been eating differently for her health. Money just seems incredibly crass or like a tip, rather than a gift. Slippers and a robe seem weird to give someone if you don't know if they already have them.

I don't know these people well, but I adore them and appreciate them so much. They've made an incredibly positive impact in our lives.

Any ideas of what I can do for them - especially in the guise of a Christmas gift rather than something more morbid?
posted by Gucky to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Thinking about the very practical, maybe Foodler gift cards, if they're in an appropriate delivery area?
posted by rmd1023 at 5:48 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, make sure you write a card or letter with the same sentiments you've written here, those words were incredibly sweet and heartfelt and probably the best gift she could receive right now is knowing how much she's impacted you positively.
posted by katypickle at 5:54 PM on December 14, 2013 [60 favorites]

Photos of your pets (and your pets and her, if you have any) and sincere notes of thanks would probably mean the most right now.
posted by jaguar at 6:00 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding katypickle -- definitely be sure to write her a card or letter expressing what you said here. I think the main thing people ultimately want to know about their lives is that their presence on the earth mattered in some way, and your words are a lovely testament to the fact that she has.

As for a gift: I wonder if something like a nice throw might be good? It's cozy and comfortable, but not necessarily as intimate as a robe or slippers.
posted by scody at 6:02 PM on December 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Most people don't enroll in hospice until things are very far along. I hope that's not the case here, but it likely is. When things get to that stage, people tend to lose interest in getting more stuff. A visit might still brighten her day. If you go, make it easy on her. When you get there, you can scope out the situation and see how much energy she has. Don't ask her questions or say things that will make her feel like she has to respond. Just tell her the kinds of thing you wrote here. If she's too far along to want visitors, then please do put these sentiments in writing so that someone can read them aloud to her. Either way, let her know she is appreciated. That's the best gift of all.
posted by Longtime Listener at 6:07 PM on December 14, 2013 [11 favorites]

Write her a letter saying what you said here. Donate money in her name to an animal shelter. Perhaps call her partner and offer to visit with your dog (if he's not rambunctious) but make it clear that they can turn you down if they don't want visitors.
posted by k8lin at 6:21 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Can you bring your dog to visit her? I would ask first, of course, but she might really like see your dog again. The card would be lovely.
posted by cairnoflore at 6:22 PM on December 14, 2013 [14 favorites]

I was just coming to suggest a visit with your dog.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:01 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

When my brother was sick with cancer the radiation treatment kept him couchbound, and he was very bored. The bright parts of his day were video games (Moving more towards action games as his attention span got shorter and energies levels lower and he couldn't do more complex things) and movies (He developed into a cinophile while sick). He also enjoyed one of those zen painting things, with the slate and brush and water? I didn't really understand it, but he enjoyed it.

But yeah, things she is interested in that she can do in bed or on the couch? That was what seemed to keep my brother's spirits up.
posted by Canageek at 8:17 PM on December 14, 2013

Money just seems incredibly crass or like a tip, rather than a gift.

She's self-employed. She's deathly ill. She's not working. For most people in the US, this scenario is a total financial disaster. Cancer causes poverty. Unless you know she has amazing insurance or a partner making a ton of bank (unlikely if they're both working a small business), money is probably what's best for her even though it's weird for you.

I'd put cash in a card with a note that says something along the lines of "We didn't know what to get you in what we know has been an immensely difficult year for you both. You've always been so fabulous; hopefully you can find a fabulous use for the enclosed." And then add what you wrote in your original post. People want to know they made a difference, that they were noticed and appreciated in ways that are memorable. Give her the gift of that, but stop worrying about crass and also give her money.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:21 PM on December 14, 2013 [51 favorites]

I like DarlingBri's suggestion. Enclose a photo of your dog.
posted by elizeh at 5:37 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

+1 DarlingBri. A freelancing friend went through cancer treatment this year and it was a financial nightmare. As generous as you can be, because it is likely going to go to overdue bills and not to a fun trip to the mall or whatever.

You might also offer to bring your dog to visit. People can be too sick to take care of a pet but still vastly appreciate something to pet; a dog that has been walked and played with and fed and so on, dropped off for a brief visit, might be very very welcome. Make clear that the offer is to drop the dog off and return after an interval; if you get a "no, please stay," stay, but otherwise don't.
posted by kmennie at 7:24 AM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thanks everyone for the advice. As a follow up, she passed away much faster than expected before I could act on it.

Her partner appreciated the MeFi recommended Christmas tip and we made a large donation in her name to the dog-loving charity her partner recommended in lieu of flowers.
posted by Gucky at 11:56 AM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

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