snow on tree branches




Christmas tree picture

When a friend, a neighbor or an employee was in the hospital, at home recuperating, or suffering a loss, my parents did not send flowers. If it was at all possible, they personally delivered the flowers or the plate of cookies or the casserole. They believed that being present was the best present.

This post is a gift of words to you from my parents…before his Alzheimer’s and her dementia. My dad is gone now, and my mother is very confused about where she is and what is going on, but I’m going to share with you some of the quotes they would have used to nudge a smile or encouragement.

My dad thought Will Rogers’ words were both wise and humorous. This is an example of one of Dad’s favorites: “Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me. I want people to know why I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way, and some of the roads weren’t paved.” And this was Will Rogers’ reminder to wait and see how things work out: “We must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.”

It’s difficult to explain, but when my dad began a visit with a light or humorous comment, he and the other person would laugh and shake their heads, agreeing it was right, and then Dad would pull up a chair, sit down, and they would have a genuine, relaxed talk.

In my mother’s case, as she put the flowers on the table, or set down the food next to the person, she’d convey the many best wishes from others. If she had a specific connection to the person—for instance, if they were in the same writing club—and the person was discouraged about being too ill or unable to write, etc., Mom would share something she’d read. This is one of my favorites: You know, I read something by Jack London that made me laugh.‘You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.’” Then she’d pat the person’s hand and offer to help her find a club when the time was right.

Coach Lou Holtz  summarized it best when he said, “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”   This Christmas, on behalf of my parents, I encourage you to sing your own song, and then be there for someone else and  share it, loud and clear.


sheet music



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations

62 responses to “THE GIFT OF WORDS

  1. I love your father’s philosophy! I remind my portrait clients of this all the time. So many people want me to make them look thinner or remove their wrinkles. My response is always that they earned every wrinkle and are beautiful just the way they are. Some believe me, others not so much! But in the end, I think most of them see their own beauty when they view their proofs. The quotes from Jack London and Lou Holtz are also wondeful. Thanks so much for sharing, Marilyn. Merry Christmas! XO

    • As a talented photographer, Robyn, you tred that line beautifully. One year for Mother’s Day, Molly had our pictures taken at Glamour Shots. OhBoyOhBoy. We had a lot of laughs over it, fortunately, because we certainly didn’t look like the “real” us.
      Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  2. Wise words … Thank you for this gift

  3. calvin

    I clear my throat and sings a simple two word song like the Cardinal that sits in the Birches outside my window this time of year – kənˈjēnēəl, followed by ˈkôrjəl.

    Good shtuffs and a Happy New Year, may no fresh snow fall from the branches and down your back, unless of course that kind of awakening turns your crank.

    • Oh, Calvin, I have no idea what the Cardinal sings in those two words, or even how to pronounce the words, but I do know that my dad would be laughing at your comment about the snow falling down your back! 🙂

      • calvin

        Oh you know me I have to be different, comes from being one part Scottish, one part Pennsylvanian Dutch and one part First Nation which gels into one Shākē persona. They are the two words which came to mind regarding your father, Will Rogers, Lou Holtz and the Cardinal outside my window; congenial (phonically kənˈjēnēəl) and cordial (phonically ˈkôrjəl).

        Have a good holiday, an watch out for ‘snow falling from cedars’ (which is also a tile of good read.

      • Ah, thank you so much. Cordial and congenial; excellent, Calvin!
        SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS is one of my favorite books. It one book that I felt was beautifully made into a film, and both the book and the movie, I can “feel” the freezing wind and snow. And yes, I will watch out for snow falling down my back… 😉

  4. Hey Marylin,
    Those are some very wise words.
    Here to wish you and your a merry Christmas and a prosperous new year

  5. juliabarrett

    Marylin – You have a gift as well, with words. I cherish this post. (I think I’ll print it and hang it in my office.)

    • Julia, that means a lot, coming from you. I’ve read aloud excerpts from your book of poems and your book as a hospice nurse to my mom–and the writing is such a gift to your readers–so I appreciate the compliment!

  6. You, my friend, are the truest incarnation of the best of your parents, both of them. I don’t remember when I’ve read a more heartwarming post, music to my writerly ears, loud and clear.

    Your anecdotes evoked a mental image of my Aunt Ruthie standing at the kitchen sink covering a turkey dinner plate with tin foil and remarking, “Amanda doesn’t have anyone, and she can’t get out, so I’m going to take this to her. She deserves to have Thanksgiving too.”

    I gratefully accept your gift of words and won’t sully it with a re-gift except to underscore Calvin’s hilarious and clever reposte about snow: “[M]ay no fresh snow fall from the branches and down your back, unless of course that kind of awakening turns your crank.” Hilarious!

    • Aw, thank you, dear Marian, I so appreciate your comment. Music to your writerly ears–how I love that!
      Your Aunt Ruthie and my mother are so similar. Thanksgiving and Easter, especially, my mother did what Ruthie did. Mom would prepare a special plate of turkey or hame, all the trimmings, cover it with foil, and take it to share with an ailing or lonely friend or neighbor, and it was never a quick visit.
      Calvin’s reposte about snow is one my dad would have loved!

  7. Didn’t somebody somewhere say that the greatest gift you can give is your time? Time to spend with someone and share a few words. Priceless. This post says it all and is a timely reminder. Thanks Marylin. Hoping you and your lovely family enjoy a very Merry Christmas.

    • I wrote the post on Friday, Jenny, and then our 11-year-old grandson asked if he could come along with me to visit my mom (his great-grandmother). It’s 400 miles round trip and we were going to spend the night, and I wondered how he would handle it. But, Jenny, he was wonderful, the way he read my mom’s favorite poems and prayers to her and patted her hand. Soon she was humming along with the rhythm of his words, her first genuine responsiveness in several days. Having Gannon along was a precious gift to her, and to me.
      A very Merry Christmas to you, dear Jenny.

  8. Don

    You know, Marylin, I’ve always felt life is made up of myriad little truths that when put together create a wonderful and deeply meaningful tapestry. There’s a simplicity which too often is missed or overlooked. Your post here is a beautiful example of these little truths, and the people, like your Dad and Mom, who live them out in the ordinary stuff of life, are special, special people. Love those little sayings.

  9. Merry Christmas Marylin. How beautiful of your parents to set such fine examples of how to encourage and cheer. I love a good quote and the ones you have shared today are so lovely.
    My favorite is the one about odometers. So true. I have earned every wrinkle and I’m not going to try and hide all those years of life.
    It’s finally snowing here in the east although I hear it is not going to last. Hope you have a wonderful holiday!
    xo Joanne

    • I think Will Rogers’ quote about the odometers was especially appropriate for my dad since he was a car dealer, Joanne, but I especially love the part about the unpaved and rough roads. I always thought that was a good description of the potholes and washed out patches we encounter on our life journeys.
      We had some fog, ice and snow during our drive here from Colorado, but then suddenly, it ended. And then this weekend when I drove down to Ft. Scott to visit my mother, the weather was dry with blue skies and bright sun.
      I wish you and your family a warm and wonderful Christmas, and safe driving.

  10. Beautiful post to find this morning! I love Will Rogers…he was the real thing. One branch of the family tree is from his area…everyone loved him. Have a good weekend…

    • And you, too, Claudia. Will Rogers did have a special gift, didn’t he?
      This weekend our 11-year-old grandson went with me to visit my mom. She had been unresponsive for two days, but by the time he patted her hand and read some of her favorite poems and prayers, she was smiling and humming along with the rhythm of his words.

  11. Jim

    Your pictures are delightfully symbolic for the theme of this week’s blog. No words needed. And the theme is so appropriate for the holiday season or any season for that matter. Well done.

    • And it really rang true this weekend, when our grandson went with me to visit my mom. Gannon was “there” and genuinely focused on reading poems and prayers to his great-grandmother while he put his hand on hers. It was so sweet, Jim, and to see her respond was so touching. When she began humming along with the rhythm of his words, I was so touched by how they’d connected. It was truly the gift of words.

  12. Wonderful, Marylin. Reminds me of “the ministry of availability.”

  13. Another lovely post Marylin, and another reminder of how our parents live in us – sometimes to our surprise!

    Thanks for sharing your Dad’s approach to a visit. I do a lot of visiting so will start saving up humerous truth-filled quotations to share.
    Have a wonderfilled Christmas.

    • And I’m sure that people who didn’t know my dad well might have wondered what he was doing, visiting a person in the hospital and beginning with one of those light, humorous, seemingly unrelated quotes. But it was amazing how that bit of levity set the tone for him to pull up a chair and spend quality time. It was a wonderful quality of his.
      I’m wishing you and your family a wonder-filled (I love that!) Christmas, too.

  14. Marylin, this post conveys so perfectly the way some people put others at ease and simply be present. I can only imagine how relaxing it must have been for people to feel that lightness in the beginning and that compassionate listening as your parents gave the gift of words to their friends.

    I know that if I ever have the pleasure of being in your presence, I would feel the same. MERRY Christmas!

    • Oh, thank you, Shirley. Many of your posts–plus so many scenes in your book BLUSH–convey that sense of “being present” in each situation. I don’t think it’s a lost art today so much as a loss of heart and time and energy; plus, as some of the other comments point out, the trend now is to try to quickly convey a message via social media.
      A very Merry Christmas to you and your family, Shirley.

  15. I like what your parents taught you – that is what my mother would call being a human being. I would rather someone visited or called me personally in my time of need than have them post something on social media, as some do nowadays.

    • Oh, I agree. I’m surprised how many personal Get Well and Sympathy comments become posts on social media. And often, those comments are followed up in general with other comments made by readers who don’t even know the person. Like you, I think a personal one-on-one call or visit would mean so much more.

  16. I read the Will Rogers quote to my husband and he said that everybody likes Will Rogers, the American philosopher .
    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    • He remains very popular here, Gerlinde, so I’m glad your husband enjoys him, too. Will Rogers had a uniquely personal perspective; he never missed a punch, but he managed to say what needed to be said without starting a fight. Even when he criticized political situations, he could do it in a semi-humorous way that left politicians unable to defend themselves. Merry Christmas to you and your family, dear Gerlinde. I hope this is a joyous and peaceful time for you.

  17. We should all follow your father’s philosophy, Marylin. In honor of your parents, I will purposely sing my own song and be there for someone.
    Merry Christmas, my friend!

  18. Pingback: Dear Tom, I don’t see the point… | I Don't Think It Means…

    • Tom had the gift of words, Julia. He wrote some of the sweetest, most supportive and thoughtful comments to my mother. Oh, how I miss him! You and he share that style, and I’ve often read aloud your comments and his to my mother. She doesn’t know you, but she smiles and nods, and I feel like it’s making a difference.

  19. Your parents are hovering around in your posts and they lend such warmth to whatever you choose to write. I am going to remember long the bit about having come a long way and some of the roads not being paved, and the part about going after inspiration with a club. How Time has silenced all those wonderful people! The world seems to be turning into a dismal assembly day after day.

    • When I remember all these things my parents did while I was growing up, it gives me a nudge of hope that things will turn around in the world and be better. This weekend when I went to visit Mom, I took my grandson with me. When he read aloud to her from her favorite book of poems and prayers, she responded to his sweet 11-year-old’s voice and the way his hand patted hers. I doubt she realized he was her great-grandson, but she savored the time time with the child beside her. It was a very nice balance, having him help her the way she’d helped others.

  20. The philosophy of your parents continues to bless others, Marylin. Encouraging words make others rich and cost us nothing. May we all give and receive such riches in this holy season and after! Merry Christmas!

  21. dianabletter

    Thank you, Marylin, for these beautiful words about speaking and silence. I appreciate hearing the song of the birds and your thoughts. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year to your loved ones. Diana

  22. Marylin, your parents were truly special people. Giving of ones time is so much more important than just sending someone something unless it’s impossible to do so. Merry Christmas. 🌲

    • They really rose to the occasion, Tracy. I think it was part of their personalities, but also, while they were each still young, both them lost a parent (my dad’s mother, and my mom’s father) of very difficult illnesses. I don’t think either of them forgot it, and they remembered how important it was to have someone some to visit in person, reach out and pray with them and offer comfort.

  23. Keeta

    I wish I had been friends with your parents –I so like the sounds of them! Helps me understand your specialness. Have a Christmas filled with things you love. Keeta

    • I think the new puppy would be a bit too much for my mom, Keeta. Scout is keeping all of us almost too busy, and with all the puppy nipping, she would have been overwhelming. But both of my parents loved our dog Maggie, who was calm and affectionate and very gentle. We’re hoping Scout will eventually calm down. But still, having Scout with our family is a really good Christmas combination.
      I wish the same for you, dear Keeta, that your Christmas is filled with things–and people–you love.

  24. Keeta

    Made me wish I had known your parents—no wonder you are so special!

    • And they would have loved you, Keeta! Especially my mom…oh, how I wish we all could meet for coffee (except she would have tea). Before her dementia, Mom would have enjoyed you so much. 🙂

  25. Hi Marylin,

    What a lovely and empowering post !

    Your parents were natural coaches and intuitively knew how to connect with other folks.

    And I loved that Coach Lou quote you have used, “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” Have we wondered what is that which makes us so impatient to put forth our own perceived point of view and not spare a thought about what others might wish to say?


  26. Marylin, this is such a beautiful post, thank you so much for it. I have a tear in my ear reading it, smiling at the Will Rogers’ quotes and thinking of the amazing parents you had/have. Today, with so many thinking it’s okay to send a quick text for anything and everything, this reminds us of how inadequate they really are when what can be better than a real presence rather than just a present in the form of a throwaway line? And then the quote about the songbird and sharing our voice ‘loud and clear’ with someone else. What more can I say? This is the perfect Christmas post. Bless you my dear friend, have a truly blessed and Happy Christmas filled with the joy, love and laughter shared with your beautiful family and friends…and voices singing from the rooftops 🙂

  27. Sherri, your writing is a beautiful example of sharing your voice loud and clear, especially when you write about your father or your children. You have a tender, specific, mother lion ferocity that is also angel soft.
    Keep writing, songbird Sherri, and may you, too, have a Christmas filled with joy, love and laughter!

  28. Your father and mine had the same philosophy! I would often quote him or Will Rogers in my adult education classrooms. That gift of words, from both parents, has been passed on to you. I love that you have all these wonderful memories to share with us. ❤

  29. Your posts make me long for the love of a mama and a daddy. How very lucky you are. I imagine, too, that they are lucky to have a child like you.

    • It makes me long for them, too, Laurel. My father died of Alzheimer’s almost 7 years ago, and my mother’s dementia is severe, so retelling their stories keeps them vivid in my mind. I miss them.

      • Telling their stories is a such a touching testament to their lives. I heard a story once about (I think it was the woman who sang 13 wheels and a dozen roses) whose mother had Alzheimers’. Her daddy never left her mamas’ side and just before she died, she opened her eyes and looked at him. She held out her hand and asked “where have you been?” It was so comforting to him that he was the last thing she remembered before she “left.”
        I hope you will write more. She’s not the person you grew up knowing, but once, she was.

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