An Aging Parent Gift: A Holiday Tail

November, 2018

As I shop for holiday presents this year for my 88-year-old mother Ginny, I’m thinking differently. In the past, I have always gotten her a personal gift like jewelry or a new shirt, as well as a gift card so she can pick something out for herself. She has an eye for fashion that I simply do not. But after losing, and then finding her Talbot’s gift card this past year, I’ve concluded those days are over. Even when she found it in her wallet, she forgot to use it for months. Jewelry is small and is too easily lost. I’ve also shut the door on purses as I have stood too many times in her lobby waiting while she unzips and zips about 9 zippers looking for her house keys. Twice. I always remain silent (she doesn’t like help) but I’m crying out on the inside. I can’t introduce new zippers into her life.

One gift I decided to give her this year is information. Specifically, I’m giving her a DNA kit. I had purchased one for myself a few months back and found the results to be intriguing. She was actively interested when I told her my results this past summer. I know she will enjoy the gift.

 I’m also moving forward with another gift idea.  Ginny has always had a strong attachment to dogs. I think she had an English springer spaniel as a child. She will always stop to say “hi” to a dog when she sees one. Unfortunately, her apartment complex does not allow pets.

Years ago, I saw a “dog” at the mall that I had to get her for Christmas. It was a dog sleeping in a bed whose chest gently “breathed” up and down with the help of 2 “C” batteries. She named her “Holly” and the dog is still in a heavy slumber on a chair in her living room.

Knowing her affection for dogs, I thought it was time to add one to the family. So I purchased a plush dog from Memorable Pets, an Alzheimer’s Association partner. Although she does not have the disease, I have read up on the concept and this type of pet is frequently encouraged by professionals in the elder care community. The senior or aging parent can give it unconditional love and be “responsible” for it. Of course, it can become a companion too. I chose a 16 inch Bernese mountain dog. Fingers crossed.

December 25th, 2018

We have picked Ginny up to celebrate Christmas in our home. It’s the first time we’ve had the holiday in our home since moving to Florida. Typically, we’ll travel to my sister Hailey’s, but her son is getting married in Las Vegas on the 28th and they have already departed. We will be joining them soon.

The day starts with a wonderful find. Many readers might be familiar with “yulelog” channels. TV providers such as AT &T create a channel of images of a burning yulelog with holiday music in the background and it runs for hours, ad-free, on December 25th. Well, our television provider took it to a whole new level.

The image begins with the burning yulelog in the background with some pretty tree branches and presents framing the foreground. After a few minutes, they pan to an ornament. When it returns to the scene, one of the “presents” has opened and baby ducks are running around among the presents. The holiday song wraps, the camera pans back to the ornament and everything returns to the original scene of peace. But then, a new cycle begins, and you ultimately see puppies, kittens, a puppy and a kitten, a pig and bunnies and other various combinations.

We all enjoyed it, but mom was transfixed. We had to remind her more than once that it was her turn to open a gift or stocking stuffer. Eventually, she got to the box with the dog inside and beamed.

“Well who do we have here?” she asked holding it close to her face. He remained on her lap as she opened the remaining gifts. At one point, she took a bow with a ribbon on it and planted it on top of his head. She held on to her new friend and laughed and laughed at the antics of the animals on the screen.

Finally, I got some lunch meats out, and she quickly made a sandwich and returned to the couch to watch some more. It didn’t matter that it had begun to repeat itself. It was pure joy I saw pouring out of my mother that day. There were a couple of times, that joy spilled over and she would make her new dog do a little dance while watching with her. My husband Dennis and I looked at each other, smiling. The joy spilled over to us too.

When the program ended, I didn’t have to worry about her as I prepared the turkey dinner, she was content with a book and her new buddy.  It was a wonderful day.

January 9, 2019

Ginny calls. I can hear her smiling over the phone. “You’ll never guess what I did this week” she started.

“Ok, I can’t imagine – what did you do?” I asked.

“Well, I remember there was a Hallmark store next to the grocery store and I thought they might have puzzles there. So Betsy (my sister-in-law who assists Ginny) and I visited there and sure enough, I found a puzzle.”

“That is great! I’m happy to hear that” and I am because the puzzle table we got her had been folded into a dormant position for months.

 “What is the theme of the puzzle?” I ask.

“Puppies!” she exclaims.

Of course it’s puppies I think to myself.

“I placed a white sheet on the table to see the pieces better. Mary (her home caregiver) is so great at puzzles, she is helping me. And guess who is in the middle of everything?” she added.

“Oh, I have a feeling I know” I said, laughing. “Button?”

Yes. Button is the name mom has chosen for her new best friend. In a way, it’s a smart name, because she shifts the gender on us. Sometimes the puppy is a “he”, sometimes it’s a “she”.

“Yes” she said triumphantly, “he sits right there watching over everything. I thought you would appreciate hearing that” she laughed again.

I do. She has enveloped Button into all of her daily routines. He watches television with her and sleeps in a makeshift bed next to her at night. And apparently, watches her work on puzzles.

I am not clairvoyant. I did not foresee the level of attachment she has nor the love she feels for her furry friend, but it is wildly successful and I feel that same joy creeping in that I had felt on Christmas morning.


I’m sharing this holiday story now so readers may consider adding a plush pet to their own lists for their aging parents. Button is such a beloved companion who Ginny “takes care of” and loves deeply. She combs his hair (it is a little wild) and talks to him endlessly. She doesn’t bring him with her while out doing errands, but she will leave the television on for him while she’s gone.

It astonishes me sometimes that something so small has had such a large impact in her day-to-day happiness. I am quite sure Button will be in the middle of our family celebrating Christmas this year.  And I’m looking forward to feeling some more of that holiday joy.

Have you had a similar experience with your own parent and a “pet” like Button? Please share your story and/or comments below.


  1. Great story, Melanie! Yes, choosing gifts for elderly loved ones is a challenge. I think you are on to something with the dog gift. Sorry to hear that your mom’s apartment complex does not allow pets. My mom passed two years ago at age 92, but one of the most delightful things about her memory care unit was the facility allowed people to have their cats and dogs live with them. It was delightful. One might consider small animals to be a tripping hazard (I’m sure they can be), but on the other hand you wight that with the joy that the animal brings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Pete! Thanks so much for your comment and kind words. I think it’s a smart move when assisted living/memory care facilities accept pets too. They make all the difference and absolutely improve the quality of life for the resident. They should even take it a step further and bring in therapy dogs for residents who don’t own a pet. My mother would love that. In fact, I’m going to look into it! Thank you for pointing my mind in that direction and sharing your thoughts. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Betsy! Thanks so much for leaving a comment. Yes, Ginny is so devoted to her puppy. We rarely have a conversation without mentioning that Button did “this” or “that” today. 🙂 She’s very attached to her friend, but in a positive way. It’s been great to watch. Thanks for sharing!


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