The Last Gift

Berthe Morisot - painting of The Cradle - 1872

By Judy Berman

What’s the greatest gift you can give a parent, one who has done everything for you?

Just making them proud of the adult you’ve become might be the intangible gift they would treasure the most. To know that their children are happy and living productive, useful lives would be the best gift ever.

But the one you put under the tree. What would that be?

Many years ago, I recall a mother getting many fantastic gifts from her children, and she wept openly because she didn’t get what she wanted.

I was stunned. My Mom, Mildred Fiet, would have been delighted with any of those gifts.

Mom - Milly Fiet - Copy

When I was a kid, Mom might be lucky to get a jar of Pacquin hand cream from me for her birthday, Mother’s Day or Christmas. My weekly allowance was only 25 cents, and I wasn’t very good at saving money.

From the size of the package, she had to have known what it was. But she’d always act surprised, smiled when she opened it, and say that it was just what she wanted.

Once I started working, I was able to buy her some nice things. But the one gift I thought she’d be thrilled to get, she tried to talk me out of buying.

I was haunted by images of my Mom trying to ward off the cold in Las Vegas’ freezing winter nights.

She’d bundle up in a heavy coat, mittens and a warm scarf when her shift ended at Flamingo’s coffee shop. Yes, she was still working at age 78.

One night, flipping thru the pages of an L.L. Bean catalogue, it hit me. I spotted the perfect gift to keep her warm – a camel hair coat. I lost no time and ordered one for Mom.

camel hair coat

Just a few weeks before Christmas, she went into the hospital.

Mom said the doctor told her the operation she needed was “risky.” That’s certainly a word no one wants to hear before they go in the operating room.

She suggested that I cancel the order for her coat.

That just wasn’t like Mom, and that concerned me. I insisted everything would be OK, and her coat was on its way.

Then, about a week before Christmas, my brother, Hank, called to tell me that Mom was not going to have the operation and would be coming home.

January 2001 was a month of highs and lows. We were looking forward to the birth of our first grandchild the following month. Mom had already crocheted a baby sweater set – hat, booties and sweater for Danielle, our oldest daughter, to give to the baby.

Kaitlyn in outfit my Mom made for her - 12-01

I was scheduled for surgery. Then, we got word that Mom had a set back and was admitted to the hospital’s critical-care unit.

One day after her 79th birthday, she died. It began to rain heavily. It’s as if heaven was crying the tears we’d been shedding for more than a week.

When we visited Dad, Mom’s camel hair coat was hanging in the closet.

Alone. Unused. It still had the tags on it.

This was the last gift I’d given to my Mom, and she never had a chance to wear it.

Dad donated it to a charity. I hope it wound up with someone who really needed a nice warm coat.

Mom, who knew the hardships of The Great Depression, would have loved that happy ending.


Is there a gift that has special meaning for you – either one you gave or one you received?


Photo: Berthe Morisot’s oil painting of “Le Berceau” (“The Cradle”) – 1872

Photo: Mom and I when I was about 3.

Photo: camel hair coat – L. L. Bean –

Photo: Our granddaughter, Kaitlyn, wearing the baby outfit my Mom crocheted for her – 2001

  1. So sorry that your Mom was not able to wear the coat, Judy. I used to like the Paquins lotion that my friend’s mom had. My Mom used the “smelly” Noxema! 🙂
    This was a post full of sweet and precious memories. ♡♡

  2. This is a beautiful story of love, both ways, Judy, from daughter to mother and mother to daughter. Thank you for sharing it today. And I think the heavens indeed would made sure the proper person found the warmth of that love inside that beautiful camel’s hair coat, my friend.

    1. I’ve always hoped so (about who wound up with the coat), Mark. I told Dave that I thought of “The Last Gift” as the one I gave to Mom, and the one she made for my daughter and granddaughter. Thank you for your comments. 😉

  3. What a great story. My Mom was a lot like your Mom. Gifts were always practical. When I started working I would occasionally buy her a “house dress” which is what she wore every day. There was a cotton shop near where I worked and they had simple dresses in wonderful colorful prints. She loved them better than most things. She “saved” the good stuff and when she died there were some new clothes that she never wore because she was “saving them.” I too hoped that someone would appreciate them.

  4. No doubt your mom would love to see that coat go to someone who truly needed it. She sounds like a very special woman. I treasure a little wooden box I made for my late dad. He loved it (as warped as it was!) and put his most treasured objects inside, his watch, his cuff links etc. After he died that was the only thing I got to remember him by. I use it today to put all my treasures so I can think of him every morning.

  5. It sounds like you still miss your mom, and wonder about all the “what ifs.” I hope whoever got the coat really loved it, but I’m sorry your mom never got to wear it. This made me remember the consignment shop my mom had when I was a teen. I actually got my prom gown there.
    I also cannot imagine weeping over not getting expected gifts from your children.
    I love the photo–is it your mom and you?

    1. Merril … You’re right. I do miss my Mom. I miss our chats on the phone and wish that I’d written to her more. I also loved our visits with her and Dad in Vegas.

      I suspect there are many great finds at consignment shops. I’ve donated some clothes to them.

      The photo is of my Mom and me (when I was about 3). 😉

  6. I raced to the end of the story to see how it would end, but felt a double twinge at the ending. That’s how good a storyteller you are.

    You are such a cute 3-year-old. My mom used Noxema too. I imagine she would have thought Pacquin’s too fancy. Or, maybe the RexAll pharmacy in E-Town didn’t carry it.

    Your choice of a camel-hair coat was classy as is the Morisot painting.

    1. I’m delighted that you liked this story, Marian. Mom was more a plain than a fancy girl, but I do recall her loving the Pacquin’s lotion.

      Berthe Morisot’s painting has always been one of my favorites, and the camel hair coat just reminds me of those classy movie stars in the old-time movies. 😉

  7. This post touched so many memories with me, Judy, The last Christmas before my mom’s dementia clouded her awareness, my daughter Molly, her daughter Grace, and I all got matching snowflake-on-red gloves for ourselves and a pair for Mom. We wrapped them and put them under the tree. When we opened them, the four generations of women all put them on, wiggled and waved our fingers and laughed together. We took them off only to eat, and then when Mom put hers back on, so did we. Within a few months, the dementia was rolling at full speed, but for awhile, when any of us visited, we took our gloves, put them on, put Mom’s on her hands, and she would light up, wiggled her fingers and laugh.

  8. What a wonderful relationship you had with your Mom and how she would have cherished that coat! A lovely story Judy and made me recall how I gave talcum powder to my Mom and how she raved about it. Then as we earned a little more money, my brother and I chipped in and graduated to a toaster oven for her and Dad. but still stuck with the talcum powder since she seemed to love it so..

  9. what a beautiful story, judy. like you, i think the gift continued to give, by being passed on to someone who needed a warm coat. )

  10. It was nice of your mum to look happy when she received any gifts. It must have felt good for the giver to see that. You have reminded me of a friend whose husband went to meet her at the airport. He held up a sign with her name, “Mrs …..”, and was looking around as if he did not know the person he was meeting. This tickled my friend to bits and she still has the sign prominently displayed in her house after several years. Her husband has never understood her excitement over this.

  11. Such a sad story . My mum always wanted a camel coat and never had one , in fact she had very little , and whenever I want anything , within reason I think of my mon . I know she would be saying go on your worth it ☺️
    At thirteen I wanted to play the guitar and I found one lieing on my bed when I got back from school . Dad had bought it for me . It sits in my loft room now , as we speak , I have never learnt to play it …there is still time .

    1. Cherry … Thanks for sharing about your mum. If only we could give them all that they wanted … as they did many times for us.

      Please do learn to play the guitar. I wish I had stuck with it and learned to play like my Dad did. 😉

  12. Hi Judy I’m having problems sending you messages…2016 seems to be a strange year doesn’t it or is it me ?
    My mum always wanted a camel coat and unfortunately she never had one …so sad . Sad your mum never got to wear hers …such as life . These days I make sure , within reason , I have what I want …may our ancestors be our guide .

  13. Sad but at the same time a heart warning story Judy, thanks for sharing. So lovely that you have included an old photo of you and your mother. She looks beautiful!

  14. Judy I am touched by your story of your Mum she sounded like a strong and amazing lady. I remember giving my father a writing book for his birthday on how to write your life story. On the last week or so before he passed away from cancer he handed it back to me and said that I must write my story. I wish he had written his, he had a natural talent for telling stories but no education to follow it through.

    1. Kath … I was lucky. My Dad also had a knack for telling a great story. He recorded some tales he’d told us over the years. Those were the stories I told when I first started my blog in 2011. Like you, I wish I’d gotten more down … and, I definitely wish that I’d written down some of the ones my Mom told me.

  15. A very touching story, Judy. And such a memory for you to cherish, bittersweet as it may be. I wonder where that coat is today…

  16. What a tender story, Judy. I can totally relate. My mom has Alzheimer’s Disease and we just donated some of her things she can no longer use. It is bittersweet to simultaneously experience the joy of giving and the pain of loss.

  17. Oh, that’s a really sad story Judy, and I know what you must have felt like, I had something very similar happen. It wasn’t a coat, but a fleece dressing-gown, not sure what you call them in the US (robe – maybe?) My mum had wanted to replace her old one with something pretty much identical, but could never find one similar enough. While she was in hospital, just before Christmas I found a perfect replacement. I wish I had given it to her in the hospital instead of keeping it for Christmas, but I was concerned because it was new and very luxurious it was going to take a walk, like a few of her other clothes had while staying in hospital. They either have clothes thieves in hospitals or material monsters who eat all the best nightwear! 😉 My mother had a brain tumour and it caused her to go blind within a few weeks. I actually gave it to her Christmas Eve because I was sure by Christmas morning she wasn’t going to be able to see it. She was only just able to see it that night, but she said it was what it felt like that mattered. The following morning, she couldn’t see thing, but there she was smiling in the pink dressing-gown, ready to face Christmas Day. It was a the strangest Christmas we ever had.

    I still have that dressing-gown, I have worn it on extremely cold nights or when I’ve had flu, as it’s supremely snuggly! But I agree with you about giving something like that away, it is better to do that if you can. And I’m sure your mum would very pleased that you didn’t hang onto it and grieve all the more. I didn’t keep very many of my mums clothes, but there was so much emotion tied up in that gown, I couldn’t part with it. Sometimes it has been comforting to wear, but the last time I wore it, I ended up crying my eyes out – not good at all, and I’m sure my parents wouldn’t be happy to know that. Perhaps it’s time for me to let it go now. Thanks for the thought provoking post Judy, it’s certainly given me something to consider. You never do know when you write something for a blog who will come along and read it, and it might be just the thing they need to read.

    I think the best gift a child can give their parent, is to be there for them as they have for you. It means a lot in a time of crisis. It is the toughest thing to face, but not being there, could leave some unresolved grief when they’re gone. Love is the best gift of all. 🙂

    1. Suzy … I would have hung on to that robe, too. I’m glad your Mom got to wear it and enjoyed it.

      When my ex died, he left behind a flannel shirt. I gave them to my youngest daughter and she treasured having something that reminded her of her Dad. (I’m not sure what I gave our oldest, but I know they each had something to remember him by.)

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