It’s probably the most difficult gift to give, the one for a friend or even an acquaintance who just lost a loved one or who’s dealing with an illness. But it’s also the best way to let that person know you’re thinking about them. “It’s a great opportunity if you’re not that close with someone or if your fear of saying the wrong thing stops you from saying anything at all,” says Kelsey Crowe, author, speaker, and founder of Help Each Other Out. “A gift is a great way to show that you’re thinking and you care.” But it can be nerve-racking to figure out what someone might want or need, so below Crowe helps navigate the Amazon shelves for the best gifts to buy for people dealing with loss.
“It can be intimidating to offer someone a gift because you don’t know what they can use,” Crowe says. “As selfish as this seems, if you are not aware of what someone might need or want, suggest or offer them something that is valuable to you.” Also, make sure that you include that in the note. Crowe suggests something like, “I don’t know what would give you comfort in this time, but bubble baths always help me.”
Crowe also recommends gifting things you personally know a lot about. “If for example you like lotions, you probably know some really good lotions. So you can say these are my favorites.” Also, if you buy something on Amazon take the time to make it personal. If you can’t order it to your own home and then ship it with a card, an ideal situation according to Crowe, take the time to include a note on the Amazon order.
“You don’t have to be a personal friend to do this,” says Crowe. “It can just just be someone you care about, like your college friend from 20 years ago. I had breast cancer and my students sent me a basket of organic foods that was so unexpected. Sometimes we think we need to be in the normal periphery of family and close friends, but a lot of times it’s the gifts from people you didn’t expect to notice that are very meaningful.” Which brings up another point for Crowe, specifically about gifts for people dealing with illness: “When people are around illness (their own or a friend’s) they tend to get a little healthier for a moment in time. So thinking of things that might be organic. Not, like, cheese puffs, but healthy. Or hypoallergenic.”
“If you like to give books, then give books, but if you’re not a reader you shouldn’t give a book just because that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Crowe says. If you’re the jokester type, she suggests sending someone a whoopee cushion. “I know someone got a whoopee cushion when they were in the hospital with a dying parent. That was a funny whimsical gift — and something to do with guests.”
Of course, flowers are always a safe bet.
When it comes to books, “People like books of poetry, but if you do provide something to read, make sure they know that there’s no expectation or pressure to read it,” Crowe says. Write a card that makes that clear. “Say, this spoke to me and I thought you might like it.” Crowe calls the C. S. Lewis memoir A Grief Observed “really beautiful,” but “it has some religious overtones, so you don’t want to give that to anyone who’s an atheist.”
“There’s a book out right now called The Bright Hour and it’s exquisite,” Crowe says. The author’s writing it while she’s dying of breast cancer “and it’s just such a beautiful book.” Crowe also suggests Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. “These are the two memoirs of people who are dying and the writing is exquisite.”
“If you’re just the sort of persona who loves escapism and novels you can give a frothy novel and say, this is just to take your mind off of things for a day. That also works for a Netflix streaming pass.”
There’s also a book of poems that Kevin Young, poet and New Yorker poetry editor, collected after his father died. It’s called The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing. Crowe also suggests books that remind you of the deceased, like if you know they had a favorite artist, buy the grieving a book about that artist.
A surprising but thoughtful idea: something to organize papers. “Dealing with someone who’s died is dealing with so much paperwork,” says Crowe. “People don’t talk about that.”
“People receive a lot of food, so maybe a nice way to store that food, like Tupperware,” says Crowe. “It’s almost a way of showing that you know inside the way of loss. That there’s just these practicalities that come up.”
“Often a plant can signal rebirth, and especially a flower or plant that meant something to the person who died, the person giving it, or the person receiving it. People often experience appreciation for that,” says Crowe. She also says to add caveats in the note like, If you don’t have a green thumb the universe is forgiving. Because “you don’t want to give someone one more thing to take care of — but it might feel nice.” If they don’t have a favorite plant, something like a pothos is easy to care for.
People love mugs and people appreciate handmade things. Find a way to combine those by printing a photo with the person who is gone on a mug; “that’s really meaningful,” says Crowe. “That just shows I love you.” She warns that it’s probably best for it to be a group photo and not just the person alone — “that might be a bit much.”
“If it’s someone who lost a spouse, get a game for the child, or a kids’ book someone can read for the child,” says Crowe. “It doesn’t have to be grief-related, but just noticing that there is child a in your life and you always want to keep one ounce of joy when there’s a child. Providing gifts that can help spark that.”
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