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16 September 2011

What nice thing can I send my aunt, who's having a bad time? [More:]Got a note from my mom that my great-aunt is very depressed and feels everyone has forgotten her. Her husband of 60ish years died a couple years ago. Her daughter has terminal cancer. None of her kids live particularly nearby. And she's in an assisted living home and experiencing dementia, which she recognizes isn't reality but is still so stressful. She's across the country and I can't manage a visit.

I want to send her a card and maybe some nice somethings to assuage the loneliness a little. What do you think would be nice?
Sugar-free candies to share
A tea assortment
An electric blanket
posted by Ardiril 16 September | 09:58
Some nice flowers?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 16 September | 10:00
I like sending reasonably frequent postcards in situations like that. Each time they get a "someone's thinking of you" feeling.
posted by galadriel 16 September | 10:03
A nice plush critter? Depends on the person, but I find they can be pretty cheering - helped assuage homesickness for me, once upon a time.
posted by Wolfdog 16 September | 10:30
I like both TPS' and galadriel's ideas. My sister-in-law sends me little notes just telling me about her day, and it's a wonderful way to feel involved with someone's life, even when you're so far away.
posted by punchtothehead 16 September | 10:37
You know, being as she is your great-aunt and a bit outside the usual sphere of responsibility, you could send her almost anything, and paired with a card, it will be wonderful.

Also, do you know her well enough to have a story or a poem you could write?
posted by Ardiril 16 September | 10:42
Call her regularly. Like once a week. Do not skip the calls. Even if they are short. This will mean a lot to her.
posted by danf 16 September | 10:45
What galadriel and danf said. Regular contact is hugely appreciated by anyone feeling alone and lonely. Even if she can't read the postcards, someone will read them to her. (My mom did this with an aunt of hers who lived to 100, and I saw the difference it made in her aunt's life.)
posted by BoringPostcards 16 September | 10:47
Oh yes. Phone calls and letters. With photos. And sending her a box of postcards or stationary with pens and stamps would also be a nice way for her to stay in touch with you as well as others. A worker there might be able to help her write and hold the pen if she's not able to do those things on her own. You're doing a very nice thing.
posted by iconomy 16 September | 11:42
This is so sweet! And I agree with folks above. One good letter or note, especially if accompanied by a little pampering gifts*, would brighten up one day tremendously and overflow into the next few days, but following it up with casual contact --- phone calls or notes on postcards --- seems like it sends a great message: I'm thinking of you, I love you, I care about you.

*Obviously, pampering gifts vary pretty wildly depending on the recipient, but the suggestions above sound good. An assortment of tea is a great small gift: if there's a particular kind she likes, you can get that, but if not, it's easy to collect several varieties that she might share with friends. Maybe a packet of not-too-sweet cookies to go with it, or a nice loose-tea strainer?

If you send stationery, may I suggest also sending a little book of stamps? If her mobility is restricted, not having to go get stamps is very helpful!
posted by Elsa 16 September | 13:21
Handwritten letters are really awesome. And occasional postcards. They really let a person know you're thinking about them.
posted by jabberjaw 16 September | 13:36
1. Totally agree on snail mail items and, if you can, some regular phone calls.

2. Photo album of some sort. Maybe of your family? This means so much and says very clearly that you think of her as your family too.

3. A simple to operate MP3 player with some good, upbeat books loaded on.
posted by bearwife 16 September | 14:42
Postcards are a great idea. I'd forget to keep up with writing and mailing, so I would buy, stamp and pre-write a little something on 5 or 10 at once, then drop one in the mailbox each week.

Some nice lotion or fancy moisturizer that doesn't smell like hospital issue. When I get old I want to have a stash of pricey cosmetics for my wrinkly face.

A cotton hankie. Some great vintage ones sell on etsy for less than $5.

Does she sit in the hall in a chair? Maybe a wrap of some sort? I saw something on QVC that was like a shawl but it had pockets.

What about a walker bag?

Good luck! I hope your great auntie feels better soon.
posted by toastedbeagle 16 September | 14:43
Do you have a bunch of family photos? Digital or perhaps you can have the scanned? Then get a digital photo frame. You copy them to the frame and some will allow you to add music. They will play as a digital slide show with cool music. Digital frames.
posted by Splunge 16 September | 14:55
Does she knit? I always find knitting books a great diversion from low feelings (Kaffe Fasset has a brilliant use of color and pattern).
Or how about some MP3 audio books - you could send her a cheap mp3 player and a 12-month subscription to Then keep in touch by email, to discuss what she has been listening to and how she likes it!
Or how about a webcam, so she can Skype with other family members? I love my Logitech 9000, which has a microphone built-in, so all she has to do is install the software from CD, then connect it to a USB port. You can have great fun skyping with her, until you can both see each others' faces on the webcam (personal experience ... :-).
I think the main thing is to stay in touch. Whatever you send, make sure that you follow up regularly, to give her some social contact.
posted by Susurration 16 September | 15:46
Lots of lovely ideas in here. You're a good niece, Miko.
posted by deborah 16 September | 16:45
I like so many of these suggestions. I think you're sweet, Miko, for looking for ideas.
posted by redvixen 16 September | 19:07
OK this is really kind of lame but .. when my nephew was about 14 he went through 2 bouts of some serious life threatening illnesses. We have always been very close. I went to see him as often as I could but once or twice a week I would buy a little figure from a gumball machine and send it to him. I think they were called Homies and they cost maybe a quarter or 50 cents each. He loved those and kept them lined up on the windowsill. Sometimes I'd make up a funny story about the one I was sending and sometimes he'd tell me that this one was mad at another one, or two of them were dating or whatever. Maybe something like that would work for your auntie. Not the Homies of course, but a sequence of silly things that she could look forward to receiving, and look at in between.

If you go to a Michaels craft store I bet you'd find something inspiring .. you could do something with letters of the alphabet, or flowers, or whatever.

You're a nice niece to look out for her. I'd be happy to send her a cheery card now and then if you'd like. It's always good to get mail.

(And I'm happy to report that my nephew is now 21, healthy, an honors student, a college senior, and still one of my best pals).
posted by Kangaroo 16 September | 20:22
Thanks for the ideas. I feel like kind of a shitty niece, actually. Doing anything to stay in touch with my family involves overcoming this Irish-silence-distance thing which basically tells everyone to keep their head down and take care of themselves. That's why I need ideas; the stuff doesn't come too naturally, we weren't really trained.

Sometimes I get sort of mad at my family, in general, for not having better 'extended-family' values. I still feel awkward doing any reaching out, though I'm a grownup and should be taking over some of the keeping the family together-type functions.
posted by Miko 16 September | 21:33
In that case, may I suggest the motto that has heartened me to comfort family and friends in the past? "Anything is better than nothing."

It isn't entirely true, of course; there are plenty of thoughtless or self-centered things an unkind or unthinking person can say, do, or give that can pain the recipient. So maybe I'll change that to "Any thoughtful thing is better than nothing."

It almost doesn't matter what little thing you do to start. So long as it's thoughtful (and it certainly would be), just doing it is probably better than worrying about what is appropriate while doing nothing.
posted by Elsa 16 September | 21:40
Right. Quite true.
posted by Miko 16 September | 21:43
Whatever you do, it will be good. How sweet of you to think of it, all the more so if it's outside of your established family dynamic.

Sometimes I get sort of mad at my family, in general, for not having better 'extended-family' values.

Paradoxically, this actually makes me feel a bit better about my own family to hear this is a social pattern, not just a family peculiarity. In my 20s, I started joking (but not really joking, y'know?) that the elders in our family operated like the top level of a clandestine cell organization, passing information down but discouraging information passed laterally. Then I stopped joking about it because it wasn't really that funny. At all.

Mom still thinks it's odd when her children share each other's goings-on without going through her.
posted by Elsa 16 September | 21:51
I believe 6 or 7 of my great-aunts and -uncles lived within 6 miles of us, but I only met one of them. Thanksgiving was strictly my grandparents, their children and those grandchildren. I did know one of my grandmother's relatives but I think that she was a sister-in-law.
posted by Ardiril 16 September | 23:16
Yeah, cards, letters, calls, postcards, jokes, on a regular basis. What a nice thing to do.
posted by theora55 17 September | 12:57