Every year it is the same – my husband Jerry asks me what I want for Christmas, and I give him a short list of two or three items I need or want: a trip, perfume, or a piece of jewelry. It’s not the most romantic of ways to receive a gift, but I have found over the years that it works well for us. When Jerry and I first married twenty-eight years ago, I refused to make a list or even tell him what I wanted. I felt that if he loved me, he should know what I wanted. Shouldn’t the love of my life be attuned to my needs and desires? It wasn’t just Christmas, it was the same for any occasion that involved a gift.
I changed my way if thinking after our first Valentines Day together. Jerry asked me what I wanted, and I answered with what I thought was obvious sarcasm that I probably needed some bathroom scales since I had put on several pounds since we had married. When I opened the beautifully store wrapped gift on Valentines Day, there were the bathroom scales. I looked at Jerry in disbelief and asked him what was he thinking? Did he really think I wanted bathroom scales? He answered that he thought u was serious, and he had given me what I had asked for.
I have never forgotten the hurt look on his face and the conversation that followed . Jerry had been raised with three brothers and by a mother who always put her needs last and never asked for anything. He felt totally inadequate trying to read or guess what I might want. He was a facts and figures man who loved science and technology – he worked with numbers and was totally lost when it came to reading emotions. He did love me and wanted to make me happy, but he felt I had set him up for failure and was very upset.
I decided from that day forward I never wanted to see that stricken and hurt look on his face again, and if I had to make a list, I would. So, over the past twenty-eight years, I have made the lists, and they have worked well. I get a gift I really want, and Jerry is happy too. Also, after twenty-eight years if marriage, I have come to realize that gifts do not make a marriage – being together and making memories make a marriage.
I thought there was nothing I could ever ask for that would make me happier than just being with Jerry until my sweet husband was diagnosed with Parkinsons in 2012. There are many side effects that people associate readily with this disease: the slow gait and movements; the shuffling feet; the tremors; and the slurred speech. One side effect not so well known is the one that I have come to hate the most and what is known as the mask or frozen face. The person affected loses the ability to make facial expressions and to smile. The person seems to stare straight ahead and to be in another world. One of the first things my family and I noticed before Jerry was diagnosed, was the change in his face. When people would ask me if something was wrong, I would give different reasons: he was tired; he was depressed over the loss of his daughter; or he was really busy at work. After his diagnosis, I learned that this mask was part of the Parkinson’s.
Now I consider the best gift I can receive from my husband is his very rare smile. The day he held our great-granddaughter AbbyGrace, she made him smile and that was a gift. The day his best friend came for a visit, and he smiled that was a gift. When I take the family picture for our Christmas card, I take a multitude of shots trying to find one where Jerry is smiling. When I find that one, it is a gift. Now my gift lists are very short: I want to see Jerry smile. There is nothing that can be wrapped in a pretty box that can bring me as much happiness as that rare smile. It is the most previous gift I can ever receive.