Sympathy Gifts - Unique Ways to Show You Care

There are times when people that are close to us suffer a loss and sending flowers or a sympathy card isn’t enough and we want to do more, really help them. We’ve created a list of 20 Sympathy Gift ideas that where they may seem a little unconventional can really make a difference and help those that have suffered a loss.

Idea #1 - An Experience

Think about their loved one that passed and what their loved one enjoyed doing. Maybe they loved to fish. Perhaps they were an avid baseball fan. Whatever it was, gift them the experience. A weekend up fishing with a local guide in a rented cabin. Choose tickets to a game. Gift them a golf lesson and then 18 holes of golf. Give them the gift of sharing in something that their loved one was passionate about. It provides an instant connection and, hopefully, gives them a nice memory.

Idea #2 - A Clean Home

This gift idea is especially helpful after the immediate loss of a loved one or after the services. The donation of a cleaning service to come and give order to a home during a time of upheaval can take a tremendous amount of pressure off of a home owner. In this scenario, paying for the service rather than doing the cleaning yourself is typically of greater value as the family may appreciate the anonymity of having people they don’t know in there home cleaning. It keeps them from feeling obligated, embarrassed, acting like a host and simply just allows those that are there to clean to do just that - clean.

Idea #3 - Groceries

When a loss occurs families are typically overwhelmed with things that need to get done, decisions that need to be made. Often times every day things such as grocery shopping fall by the way side. Buy the groceries and bring them over and just put them away. Or choose a service such as Peapod that will deliver the groceries right to the house. An alternative would be to get them a gift card to a local grocery store so that paying for the groceries is one less expense they have during a very expensive time in their lives and it does remove a worry from their plate.

Idea #4 - Personal Care

Loss takes a toll on a person - mentally, emotionally, physically. A sympathy gift of some personal care allows them some much needed rejuvenation. Maybe you choose a gift certificate for a facial, a massage or a spa treatment. Perhaps its the gift of a manicure and pedicure or haircuts for the whole family. Again, executing a funeral and a memorial service can get very pricey very quickly and these small gestures can not only bring some welcome financial relief but allows them the luxury of taking care of themselves - if only for a very short period of time.

Idea #5 - Flowering Tree or Shrub

This is a great idea as a way to memorialize someone that has passed away. You can choose a tree or a shrub or some sort of annual that will bloom every year and gives a visual reminder of the deceased. If you’re unsure of what to get, a gift card to a local nursery or garden center works as well. Take your gift one step further and offer your assistance with digging out the area and helping with planting. Don’t be offended if the family would like to plant the tree or shrub on their own but be available should they want or need assistance.

Idea #6 - A Handwritten Note or Book of Letters

This is such a great idea for those especially from larger families. Gather the family together or do it on your own and write a memory and share it the family of the deceased. There is so much of our individual lives that are shared with multiple people and sharing a part of their loved one, a memory you made with them can be a precious gift. Memories are all that remain when we lose those we love and having a book of memories to look back on and read through is a gift that gives for years to come.

Idea #7 - A Symbol of Interest, Hobby, Passion

Think about the life of the deceased. What were they passionate about? What did they love? Give a sympathy gift that is a symbol of that interest or hobby. Did they love to hunt? Choose a bullet casing and have their loved one’s name engraved on it. Serve in the military? Gift them a beautiful American flag in a flag case. Love the ballet? Bronze a pair of ballet slippers and have them professionally mounted on a base with an engraved plate. These types of personal gifts help to capture what made the deceased unique and serves as a visual and personal reminder of their life.

Idea #8 - Donate to a Cause

Many of us are passionate about a cause. Why not gift the family a donation to their loved one’s favorite cause? Whether it’s the Humane Society, Breast Cancer Awareness, Alzheimers or the Wounded Warrior Project, make a donation in the name of the deceased as a sympathy gift to the family. This can be a one time donation or an annual gift - the decision is yours. But it’s a way to help support a cause that was near and dear to the life of those that passed.

Idea #9 - A Meal

This can be a homemade meal or, better yet, a meal from their favorite restaurant. The days and weeks ahead hold lots of questions and tasks to get done and often times, especially for those with children, cooking up a hot meal for the family can seem insurmountable. Gift them a hot meal from a restaurant. This takes one less thing off the list that the family needs to worry about for a night and gives them a reprieve from having to cook. It may also serve as a way for them to get out of the house, a few hours of normalcy that where brief, can be restorative.

Idea #10 - Gifts for the Kids

Teddy bears, soft blankets, coloring books, crafts. Children have a much different way of coping than adults do and finding gifts that they can connect with can help them through their own grieving process. A small teddy bear or stuffed animal that has particular meaning, a soft blanket with maybe their loved one’s name embroidered in the corner or even small gifts such as coloring books or board games that can help distract them while the family makes decisions in the days ahead may help considerably.

Idea #11 - Time

This sympathy gift can come in many different forms but it all boils down to time. Whether it’s offering to babysit, run errands, watch the house, walk the dog, whatever it is - gift them your time. Give them a card and let them know what you can help with, when you’re available and then show up. During a time when so many decisions are having to be made, having someone there to do the normal things and to help out with other day to day tasks can prove invaluable. And be there with ‘time’ in the days and weeks ahead - especially for those that have lost a spouse or a partner and are suddenly single parenting. Going at it alone is a difficult transition and an extra set of hands will most likely be needed.

Idea #12 - Personalized Jewelry

Depending on your relationship to the family of the deceased, personalized jewelry is a great option for a sympathy gift. Select a pendant that will hold ashes, a photo engraved keepsake where you can have their loved one’s picture engraved on it or even a bracelet or a ring that can be worn in memory of the deceased. Add to the personal nature of the jewelry by having it personalized with engraved text if that’s an option. Be sure to consider the personality and lifestyle of the recipient before you choose and make your selection based off of what you think they will like, not necessarily what you personally find appealing.

Idea #13 - A Picture Frame

This is a great idea for virtually any type of loss. Choose a picture frame and send it along with a note, encouraging them to frame a picture of their loved one. Better yet, if you have a picture of the deceased that you know that they loved or if it’s one they haven’t seen, place the photo in the frame and send that as your gift of sympathy and love. Visual reminders of those that have passed are of great significance and comfort typically and this allows you to gift your memory of the deceased with the family.

Idea #14 - Garden or Outdoor Decoration

Choose a garden statue, a wind chime, some sort of outdoor decoration for their garden. This is a terrific idea for those that are looking for a sympathy gift for a pet owner that has lost a pet and there are a lot of retail options available. Garden benches that are engraved with a favorite verse or memorial stones with a plaque are other ideas for outdoor sympathy gifts. You can even by a garden stone kit and make a garden stone for them or bring the kit to them and allow them to decorate one in memory of their loved one.

Idea #15 - Handyman Services

Whether you are handy or you know a local handyman, gift them their services. It could be mowing the lawn, fixing the siding, installing new decking, small chores that are just too expensive and/or overwhelming at this point in time. Gift them the help and assistance they need to get things taken care of when life is falling apart. This again relieves pressure from the family and helps them to keep their focus in areas that are of greater concern.

Idea #16 - A Vacation

Obviously this is a gift that not everyone can afford to give but for those that can, it’s a nice way to give the family a break, an escape, a getaway from the grief. This does replace the loved one nor does it make light of the loss. It just serves as a way to get away and really take a break from life. Allowing the family to choose the when also gives them something to look forward to in the rough months ahead.

Idea #17 - A 'Thank You' Basket

Thank you cards are an etiquette task that many families take part in after the loss of a loved one. Why not put together a Thank You basket for them. Choose simple cards that you allow them to write a message or attach a memorial insert, add a return address stamp or stickers, stamps, a nice pen and even sheets of monogrammed paper if that’s something you think would appeal to them. Again, it gives the family one less thing to have to think about and helps to prepare them for a task that lies in the near future.

Idea #18 - A Video of the Service

This is an out of the box idea that may appeal to some families. It is becoming more commonplace to have memorial or funeral services videoed professionally. This can be especially touching in cases where not all family can attend the services or where it will serve as a way to introduce younger children to a parent or family member they were too young to remember. Check with your local media companies or photographers for resources and referrals.

Idea #19 - Meal Service

With so many companies like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, this type of sympathy gift can be a life saver for busy families or busy professionals. You can gift them anywhere from one month to a year of meals delivered right to their door. With difficult days ahead, this can be of great comfort and great convenience to the family.

Idea #20 - A Night Out

Movie tickets, a gift card to a local restaurant, bowling alley, etc. Give the family a night out. In a time where finances can be tight and there is little to no room for extras, a night out on the town can be just what the doctor ordered. Think about activities that involve the whole family and will give them a chance to go out for the night and enjoy.

Some DO's and DON'Ts when choosing a sympathy gift:

DO make the gift about them. Think about their lifestyle, their likes and dislikes and keep your choice focused on what you think will appeal to them - not so much on what you like or don’t like.

DON’T be offended if they don’t say thank you. They have enough on their plate at the moment and often times, social nuances can fall through the cracks. Don’t assume that this means that they don’t care or don’t appreciate your thoughtfulness.

DO follow through. If you’ve given the gift of your time, than be there. If you’ve offered to come help fix things, do it. If a meal has been promised, deliver. Make sure that you can follow through on your gift if it is something that is of intangible nature such as donating your time to babysit, etc.

DON’T make them ask more than once. Again, if you’ve donated your help or your time, don’t make them ask you more than once for your assistance. Many people struggle as it is with asking others for help and the last thing the family wants is to feel as if they are nagging you to follow through on your offer.

DO listen. Maybe they’ve mentioned that they like a certain flower or have mentioned a meal that they love. Listen, take mental notes and keep your attention on what you can do to help them. Bringing a meal that doesn’t appeal to the family but that is your favorite is NOT helpful. Listening is key.

DON’T take anything personal. This applies to any gift that is given. Grief affects everyone differently and as people go through the stages they may feel anger, sadness, depression, etc. And they often times lash out and it has nothing to do with not liking or appreciating the gift that you’ve given them. Do your best to not take it personal and understand what they are going through.

DO talk about their loved one and why you chose the sympathy gift you did. This again helps the family to find a connection and shows that you care not just about their loved one but that you care about THEM.

DON’T do nothing out of fear of not knowing what to say. A handwritten letter or note costs nothing but your time and don’t let feeling uncomfortable with their loss stop you from doing nothing. Those that are grieving need to hear, need to know that others remember the deceased too. Put your own feelings aside and gift them a favorite memory or expression of sympathy. It matters.

DO ask the family what would really help. Tell them that you would like to gift them something that will help them in the days ahead and do they have suggestions as to what would be of most value to them. They may be too overwhelmed with other things and not have an answer but don’t be afraid to just come right out and ask.