What you need to know:
- Perhaps we should start making an effort of finding out what those people we want to gift need or would like, rather than making assumptions.
- Elderly people especially, I learnt from my experience with my grandmother, have specific needs quite different from our own.
Sometime at the beginning of this year, I attended the burial of a friend’s grandmother. The elderly woman was in her eighties when she died, and drawing from the eulogy, she had lived a happy and full life. She was buried a few metres behind the house she had lived in almost all of her life, where she had raised her seven children.
The house was a wooden one with an earthen floor, the kitchen walls and iron sheet ceiling blackened by years of firewood smoke. Right next to this house was a more modern one built using stone and iron sheets. It had a spacious sitting room, kitchen area and a bedroom.
The house, my friend told me, had been put up by him and his four cousins – they had pooled money and paid a fundi to build their grandmother what they thought was a more comfortable home, one that she would enjoy in her sunset years.
Very pleased with their selfless and loving gesture, when the house was completed, they called a get-together of family and friends and had a feast, after which they presented the house to their grandmother. She was pleased, and blessed each one of them for the thoughtful gesture, and that evening, they all went home feeling might proud of themselves.
But their grandmother never moved into the new house. At the time of her death, the house had stood there for five years, yet she had never spent even one night there. The living room had a set of seats where guests would sit when they visited, but when they left, she locked up the house and retired to her wooden house next door. She explained that while she was grateful for her new house, she felt more comfortable in her old home.
That story got me thinking about an experience I had with my own grandmother a couple of years back. Whenever I visited her, I would go bearing a huge shopping bag filled with maize meal, chapati flour, sugar, tea leaves, cooking oil, bread, tissue, toothpaste – everything I bought for my own use at home.
She would gratefully accept the generous package, and as I was leaving in the evening, she would pray that God would keep repaying my generosity, and I would go home thinking that I was the best grandchild anyone could hope to have.
Until I visited her one day and as I was leaving, she handed me a big bag full of items she told me that she did not need, and which would just go bad if she didn’t give them away. To my astonishment, inside the bag were packets of an assortment of tea leaves, what I would have sworn was the 3-litre container of cooking oil I had brought during my previous visit, sugar – in short, an entire supermarket.
I realised that everyone who visited her came bearing gifts that they, just like me, thought she needed. But she lived alone, and needed just one packet of unga to tide her over a month, and maybe just half a kilo of sugar.
In fact, I was surprised to learn that she long stopped taking tea leaves because they gave her heartburn, and that she did not like the taste of the toothpaste I had been buying her over the years and that she preferred a specific brand of bathing soap. And there I was, thinking that I was the world’s greatest grandchild who deserved a trophy for her thoughtfulness.
I could not help thinking how, most of the time, we buy or gift loved ones the things we think they need or will love just because those things are what we would like for ourselves. Perhaps we should start making an effort of finding out what those people we want to gift need or would like, rather than making assumptions. Elderly people especially, I learnt from my experience with my grandmother, have specific needs quite different from our own.
Nowadays when I visit her, I take her money instead, so that she can buy what she wants and the quantity she needs. And she appreciates it much more.
The writer is editor, Society & Magazines, Daily Nation; [email protected]