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julia merola (the writer) wearing her nameplate necklace
julia merola (the writer) wearing her nameplate necklace
Photo courtesy of Julia Merola
Life > Experiences

What My Grandmother’s Final Gift To Me Taught Me About Gift-Giving

Growing up, I was a notoriously awful gift-giver, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I originally blamed it on the fact that my siblings are 12 and 14 years older than me. They had real jobs, so they were able to buy nicer gifts for our dad. I was so used to other people buying gifts on my behalf that I never thought of how special it was to give a gift that had actual meaning behind it.  

I once even tried to regift an existing cat statue from a bookshelf to my mom — that’s how bad I was at giving gifts. I also gave one of my friends a Playa Bowls gift card for her 21st birthday. In my defense, I wasn’t legally allowed to buy alcohol for her yet, but it was still a bad gift because there was zero thought behind it. 

My mindset toward gift-giving changed on my 21st birthday in 2022, though. Every year, we celebrate my birthday on Thanksgiving, and I knew that this would be an important holiday for my family because it would be our last one with my grandmother. She had been sick for the past few months, and we unfortunately knew she was dying.  

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because of my birthday celebration. It’s pretty cool to celebrate a holiday with all of your family and loved ones, and also, admittedly, be the only one receiving gifts. It felt like everyone’s eyes were on me last year as I opened my gift from my grandmother, yet I couldn’t understand why. 

julia merola (the writer) as a child with her grandmother
Photo courtesy of Julia Merola

Inside the birthday card from my grandmother was a piece of paper with my name on it, in her beautiful cursive handwriting. I was confused, though, and didn’t understand the gift. I turned to my mother, who explained she bought a necklace in my grandmother’s handwriting on my grandmother’s behalf, exactly as it was written on the page. 

My mom told me my grandmother knew what the gift was. She had wanted to make sure the nameplate came out as perfect as possible and kept asking my mom if her handwriting looked good or if her hand was shaking too much while holding the pen. 

In the moment, it felt like a harsh reminder that my grandmother was dying, and this gift would be the last thing I had from her. But it also showed me how meaningful and thoughtful gifts could really be, which was something I never realized before. I wear the necklace every single day. It helps me feel close to her, and I hold onto it when I think of her. It doesn’t represent the fact that this was given to me as a parting gift; it means that she’s always with me. 

I had always viewed gifts as just being something obligatory. My birthday presents or Christmas gifts to people were rarely thoughtful. But my nameplate necklace made me realize I actually wanted to put thought into the gifts I was giving instead of just buying something for the sake of buying it. 

julia merola (the writer) with her nameplate necklace
Photo courtesy of Julia Merola

I took this new gift-giving mentality with me as I bought gifts last Christmas. I knew my family wouldn’t really be celebrating — we had zero decorations up and we were still mourning the loss of my grandmother — but I wanted to do something that would cheer my mom up. I made a basket out of all her favorite things: fuzzy socks with pompoms on the ends, homemade candles, her favorite makeup products, and sweet-smelling soaps. Although it was small, I wanted to give her something that she would look forward to using and would bring her a little bit of happiness after the loss we experienced. 

I could tell the gift meant something to my mom. She didn’t say much, but she had a small smile light up her face as she slowly unwrapped the different gifts I collected. She hugged me tight, and I knew I made her a little bit happier. She didn’t have to say anything to show me that she appreciated the gift, and the experience inspired me to try and put meaning behind all of my gifts. 

This goal isn’t necessarily easy as a college student, as I can’t afford to give someone a gift like my custom necklace, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make gifts meaningful. Instead of spending more than I have to prove I’m a good gift-giver, I try to use the money that I do have for smaller gifts based on what I know people already love or what I think will mean something to them. 

julia merola (the writer), right, as a child with her mother (left) and grandmother (center)
Photo courtesy of Julia Merola

Since Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’ve bought my friends specific candles that I know will make a great addition to their new apartments in scents they’ve mentioned they like. I’ve bought another friend a small fake skeleton plant to add to her plant collection because of her love for Halloween-related items. My friends profusely thanked me for their gifts, and told me how much they loved them; their reactions taught me that I didn’t need to make grand purchases, I just needed to find something that fit their individual styles.

My grandmother taught me so much, but one lasting lesson that’s stuck with me is that gift-giving during the holiday season doesn’t have to be some big extravagant thing. It just has to come from a place of love. 

Julia is a national writer at Her Campus, where she mainly covers mental health, wellness, and all things relating to Gen Z. Prior to becoming a national writer, Julia was the wellness intern for Her Campus. Outside of Her Campus, Julia is a managing editor at The Temple News, Temple University's independent student-run paper. She's also the Co-Campus Correspondent of Her Campus Temple University, where she oversees content for all sections of the website. Julia is also a student intern at the Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting, where she works on the data desk and is assisting her editor in building a database. She has previously interned at The American Prospect. In her free time, Julia enjoys going to the beach as much as possible, watching reality TV (specifically Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules), and editing stories.