On Giving Gifts

I have written here before about receiving gifts, and of the sweetness of gratitude. I do believe that gratitude is one of the cornerstones of happiness. But lately I’ve been thinking even more of giving gifts, of what I want to leave for others when I go.

My own death is one of those gifts. Not that my loved ones want it. I know my parents in particular are anguished by my going and would do anything they could to stop it from happening. But it is my great hope to somehow turn the inevitability of my death into something of deep value for them.

The other day I watched a film about Stephen Jenkinson, a sort of renegade grief and death specialist. In it he spoke to a dying woman about my age with two children about the age of my own. She was at peace with her death but still concerned about how her family would manage without her. Jenkinson presented the metaphor of a dinner: she would not be at the dinner herself, but she was setting the table for it in how she died. I liked that idea. Though I know they’re going to manage just fine without me, I do feel like I am ‘setting the table’ for my family as I prepare for my own death. I have the opportunity with this bit of hard-won time to help them prepare for my death and, by example, for their own deaths in the future. I like the idea that my death can be a gift I leave for them that may, despite the pain of grief, be something deeply meaningful for them. Something that will ultimately enrich their lives.

This writing is also part of that gift. I hadn’t written for the past month or so, as it seemed I needed some time to just relax and enjoy the summer and time with my loved ones, but also, I realize now, to gather more thoughts, to read others on death, to contemplate and hopefully deepen my understanding of death and life—to prepare these gifts. I want these gifts to be something that others will cherish and bring to their own deaths and any others on the way. But I especially want them to be something that helps them hold life even more dear than they already do, as it has become increasingly clear to me that it is death that makes life meaningful, that without coming to terms with death, our lives are in danger of being thin, shallow, or sadly misdirected.

Flying Boy

My son Nathan sharing his gift of flying.

Thinking of my death and writing as gifts has me thinking about giving gifts more generally. People often ask me if I have any regrets as I face death. I don’t have too many, but one important one is that I didn’t give all the gifts I had to give. We often talk of people as having gifts synonymously with having talents. One of my talents is writing. But I didn’t write all the books that I wanted to. I regret that now, because I see that those books were gifts I was meant to give.

Our talents or gifts don’t do much good if we let them languish. We are meant to develop them as fully as possible and then offer their fruits back to the world. Whether your gift is caregiving, teaching, an art, craft, trade, or profession, part of the responsibility of having a gift is to develop it through hard work, playful exploration, the guidance of mentors, and through the lessons of failure. We probably also all have other gifts meant just for fun, as hobbies or recreation. Those with excessive self-doubt can benefit by not taking those too seriously!

The books and articles and stories and poems I didn’t write should have been written. I didn’t write them because I let fear of rejection and criticism and failure stop me. I let myself be discouraged by the many voices saying it was too hard to get published, that there were already too many writers all writing the same thing that nobody wanted to read. That success as a writer was close to impossible. I see now that I was wrong to believe this. The things I wanted to write and was capable of writing would have been appreciated by someone somewhere. They didn’t need to be bestsellers; it would have been enough that even a few people find something worthwhile in my words.

(One of the books I had planned and written in part was to be called Beyond Survival. It was conceived as an inspirational guide to not just surviving as a single parent, but thriving. It was to include interviews with other solo parents who had overcome all sorts of personal and parenting challenges. I regret not completing that book and offering it as my gift to all the other parents who struggle on their own as I did. More recently I was working on a feature article and potential book about youth addiction and its impossible challenges for parents. This is an important issue, another thing we don’t talk about in society but so need to as countless young people are being lost because we have no effective treatment programs for youth, who don’t respond well to treatment approaches designed for adults. Having lived through this as a parent, one of very few blessed with a positive outcome (as the photos here of my son Nathan attest), I very much wanted to write about this as my thank-you gift for getting my son back from the clutches of addiction. But again, I allowed myself to be discouraged by one rejection. Many years ago when my other son was just a little boy suffering from anxiety, I had also drafted a children’s novel (funnily enough, about a boy whose mother is dying). I let myself be discouraged from completing that book too. These are my regrets, because they are gifts I was meant to give but didn’t.

I did at least publish one book of poetry, so I have something to be proud of! I also did lots of other writing and work that made use of my gifts, so my regrets are not huge. But if I was miraculously given more time in this life, I would leave the self-doubt aside and devote myself to those unfinished projects.)

Circus boy

Nathan (at the top) sharing his gift in hand-to-hand.

I am writing about this now because someone asked me the other day if I had any words of advice for others. (It’s curious that we assume that the dying are closer to wisdom!) I guess one of my messages is this: give your gifts. This is what makes life meaningful. I believe that, without necessarily realizing it, we are happiest when we are giving. So don’t ignore your own gifts; develop them, devote yourself to them, if possible make them the focus of your working life, so that you can then give back to the world. If you have the privilege of choosing a career, choose the path that allows you to offer your gifts as a contribution to society. It’s really not about what you get in return. Then when you’re on your deathbed, you will be satisfied to see that you have given all you had to give.

About susanbriscoe

English teacher, writer
This entry was posted in On Dying and Living and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to On Giving Gifts

  1. Beautiful article, incredibly well said and well written, in my humble, secret opinion. Thank you, I am honoured to have read this, an article I shall not forget.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Regis says:

    Thank you

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It was a pleasure, reading this article. Thanks for this gift love.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for yet another deeply insightful post. My two cents? An open heart has no regrets.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Betsy says:

    Inspiring for me, Susan – the proverbial ‘kick-in-the-ass’. Gotcha! I’m on it. Thank you. XO Betsy

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Stephen says:

    Thank you, Susan.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Björg says:

    Reblogged this on Fifth Dimension in Iceland and commented:
    Life is so precious, this is fantastic reminder of that ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  8. janfalls says:

    Dear Susan, It is clear to me since I began reading your blog that you are sharing your considerable gift of writing with honesty, humility and authenticity. I understand that there are other writings you might have finished but please know that what you write now is important, so valuable. I need to hear what you just wrote. I have hesitated to share my poetry thinking that it is too personal, wouldn’t meant much to anyone else. But even if my family and friends were the only readers, that would be enough. So it is time to give my gifts and have no regrets. Thank you for your wisdom.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Selma says:

    Thank you, Susan. Beautifully and clearly written. I’m on it! Teaching and playing piano.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Shiner says:

    My goodness, you are a beautiful writer.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Shiner says:

    It seems that people closer to death DO have some great wisdom to share. Thank you. I’ll take this to heart with my own writing projects.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I don’t know if you’re a believer, but I believe in God. He healed me from an illness that Doctors did not understand. I want to pour positivity into your life. I speak LIFE over your life. The bible says ” life and death is in the power of the tongue”, so use your tongue to speak life. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, so I’m praying for your life and God will resurrect every dead thing in your life and that this gift of writing will be used as a reflection of what you’ve overcome, because I declare in Jesus ‘ name that you will live and not did and by his mighty stripes, YOU ARE HEALED!!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. curioussteph says:

    Thank you for the gift of your writing and your continued willingness to be so present to your dying process. It appears to me that your are continuing to expand and grow even as (I imagine) your physical self is retreating. I will do my best with my gifts.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. tetesdeviolon says:

    I am wondering if voicing one’s regrets that spring from such profound and immediate insight is in itself a gift in it’s giving and, in that way, an antidote in a sense to those things that weren’t written when the circumstances and discouragement were real. This acknowledgement of our limitations allows us to fully embody the extraordinary possibilities of this simple moment in the present. To be more precise, I check this blog often (no pressure) because your beautiful writing gives a real gift to me, a stranger. I have been close to the death of many loved ones and faced my own mortality a few times as well – I gained a sense of urgency to live now, what matters and what really doesn’t, what I would wish to create and accomplish. And I am moving toward it imperfectly. It’s a slow process, the clarity, the actualizing and isn’t that just life.

    All this to say, your words now give more than you can imagine. You speak to me, allow me to see through a window that is clear, beautifully crafted, thoughtful and real. It’s rare. Perhaps speaking of your regrets, the quality of this writing, now, is in part fed by the unfinished desires to write other things, it’s all in there. I wish for you the best of everything. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    • susanbriscoe says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, and for your kind words. I think your perspective is right, and that we can transform loss and regret into gifts. I am sorry you have experienced so much loss, but it seems you have wrought something beautiful and wise from those experiences. I do believe that it is death that gives life its finest meaning.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Zil says:

    When my dad died I was lucky enough to be there beside him and hold his hand and watch him breathe in and out in his last minutes. He was afraid but met his death bravely. Later I understood his very last gift to me was to show me how to die, to model as a parent once again.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. susan finch says:

    I hear what you are saying in this post Susan, but please be assured that many of your other gifts poured out every time I saw you. It may have not been the writing project you had hoped for, but your smile, your laugh, your tough spirit (remembering the guy peeing in our driveway!), your being – were gifts to me! thank you!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Pingback: Ask Me Anything #5 | The Death Project

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