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31 Meaningful Condolence Gifts for Grieving Loved Ones

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It’s probably the most difficult gift to give, the one for a friend or acquaintance who just lost a loved one. But along with simply spending time with a grieving person, the right gift can also offer some solace. “A gift is a great way to show that you’re thinking and you care,” says Kelsey Crowe, author, speaker, and founder of Help Each Other Out. In times like these when you can’t always physically be there for a friend, a gift carries even more significance.

Whether you choose a gift that helps your friend through the grieving process, or one that honors the memory of their loved one, keep in mind that condolence gifts are largely symbolic of your love and support. “It’s really about that communication, letting the person know you’re here for them,” according to R. Benyamin Cirlin, a social worker and the executive director of the Center for Loss and Renewal. Still, it can be nerve-racking to figure out what someone might want or need. That’s why we asked Crowe, Cirlin, and four other grief experts about the best gifts to buy for people dealing with loss. Then, to round out the list, we combed our archives for products we’ve written about before that felt spiritually similar to the gifts they suggested. But before we get to the items, all of the experts say the sentiment is what counts when giving a condolence gift and stress that you should include a meaningful note with whatever you give. Cirlin says this can be as simple as writing “I’m not even sure what to say,” or “I’m thinking about you,” or recounting a happy memory you have of the person who died. Alan Wolfelt, director of the Center for Loss & Life Transition, adds that “they may forget down the line what gift you gave them but they won’t forget the note.” When it comes to writing the note, using a simple blank card is the best way to personalize your message.

Traditional gifts

“In a lot of traditions, sending food offers comfort,” says Cirlin, who says a “fruit or nut basket” like this can be a thoughtful gift. Besides providing mourners with sustenance during a wake or while sitting shiva, leftovers can feed grieving family members who don’t have the time or energy to cook. Even if some families aren’t observing traditional rituals because of the pandemic, therapist Michelle Maidenberg says if you live close enough, it’s also acceptable to leave a home-cooked meal on a friend’s doorstep. Wolfelt told us about an old tradition in which friends and neighbors of the family would bring over homemade meals on some of their finer dishes. “It gave you a reason to go over after the funeral to retrieve the plate and sit at the table and [talk],” he says, which is often helpful since opportunities to reminisce about the deceased can be rare once the formal funeral rites are over. As Cirlin says, “to lose someone is to find yourself in a lonely space and one of the ways people heal is often by talking.”

We’ve written before about how the chocolate babka from Breads Bakery is regarded as some of the best in New York City. Through Goldbelly, you can have it sent to a grieving loved one anywhere in the country. Shipping starts at $25.

Wolfelt says that “flowers are symbols of love in most cultures when words are inadequate.” While they aren’t given at Jewish funerals, flowers are otherwise a nice way to show you care.

If you’d rather not give flowers that wilt within a few days, Cirlin recommends giving “a plant with some staying power.” Go with something low-maintenance that the recipient won’t have to worry about taking care of during this difficult time. “A small, easy-to-care-for succulent in a beautiful little pot is almost always appropriate,” says Wolfelt. Here’s a set of four hearty succulents with pots to match.

It’s a bit more of a project, but for friends with outdoor space, grief counselor Jill S. Cohen likes the idea of gifting a kit that lets recipients plant a tree in honor of their loved one. She says that being able to look at the tree as the years go by “keeps a piece of that memory alive.” Maidenberg agrees “there’s nothing like nurturing somebody in terms of growth.” Planting a tree, she says, is a powerful metaphor for preserving memories while moving forward.

A donation to a cause or an organization that was important to the deceased person or their family can be a personal, heartfelt gift. “You don’t have to make a large donation for it to count,” says Wolfelt. “Remember, it’s a symbol of your support more than it is a measure of your support.” To honor loved ones who appreciated literature (or historic institutions), Diane P. Brennan, grief counselor at Life & Loss Mental Health Counseling and founder of the 20-20 Grief Project, suggests donating to the New York Public Library, which will place a customized bookplate in a book in its collection as commemoration. “It’s a way to honor the memory of someone and contribute to spreading knowledge and learning,” she says. “It’s a gift that creates a legacy and also puts something good into the world.”

Helpful gifts

Sometimes the best gift you can give is help with daily tasks that a grieving person isn’t able to handle at the moment. “Mourners have what we call the ‘lethargy of grief’ for months and months after loss,” says Wolfelt. “They don’t have the energy to clean the house or cook a meal.” It might not be something a friend comes out and asks for, but experts agree it’s something they’ll appreciate. “No one likes to ask for help and most times when they’re grieving they’re in a pretty big fog,” says Cohen. Offer to clean up their place while they’re out for a few hours to allow for social distancing, or treat them to a professional cleaning service for the day. (If you think your recipient might still be wary of letting strangers into their house, you can read more about Handy’s COVID safety measures here.)

A night’s (or week’s) worth of dinners paid for by a Seamless gift card is another helpful gift that someone who is grieving can use right away. Brennan says these “gifts of time” are ideal for “giving the person time to do the things that they need to do to support their grief.” Along with taking the time to mourn, there are often responsibilities that come with the death of a family member, like settling their estate or cleaning out their home.

While they’re less exciting than some of the other gifts on this list, there are a few household items you can give that will make someone’s life a little easier. “People receive a lot of food,” so Crowe says to consider giving “a nice way to store that food,” like this colorful set of containers from Joseph Joseph. “It’s almost a way of showing that you know inside the way of loss. That there’s just these practicalities that come up.”

“Dealing with someone who’s died means dealing with so much paperwork,” says Crowe. “People don’t talk about that.” Gifting something like an organizer shows you really understand what they’re going through. Here’s one that’s pretty enough to repurpose in happier times.

Speaking of paperwork, a personalized stationery set would make it a little easier for the bereaved to write thank-you notes (or other messages) to their loved ones when the time is right. When we spoke to experts about their favorite custom stationery, Sarah Schwartz, editor-in-chief of Stationery Trends magazine and editor at the Paper Chronicles, recommended this affordable set that artist Erika Firm created in collaboration with Minted.

Self-care gifts

As a way of processing grief, Maidenberg explains that “people typically like to write down their thoughts and feelings,” so she suggests giving a journal and nice pen to someone who has recently lost a loved one. She likes options that offer reminders, like this one which includes short prompts to encourage daily journaling. As for the pen, we can confidently recommend the super-smooth Baron Fig Squire rollerball as it topped our list of the best 100 pens. It’s a big step up from a drugstore ballpoint and will make their daily ritual feel special.

Lots of our experts suggest gifts that offer the grieving person an opportunity to feel pampered because, as Cirlin says, “you’re going to be challenged to take care of yourself” during this tough time. Cohen agrees that a massage offers “a gentle thing to do for yourself.” Wolfelt adds that “many mourners appreciate touch and, after somebody — particularly a significant life partner — dies, you lose that.” While some folks might not yet be ready to step back into a spa due to the pandemic, the gift card never expires, so your recipient can use it now, if they want, or save it for when they feel more comfortable.

For at-home wellness, few things beat a long, hot bath. To add a personal touch, Crowe suggests writing a note, like, “I don’t know what would give you comfort in this time, but baths always help me.” This bath soak contains Himalayan pink salts for soothing aching muscles and wild-crafted frankincense to calm the mind. It’s a favorite of both Strategist beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton and shoe designer Tabitha Simmons.

Cohen suggests a cozy throw blanket to give people in mourning comfort through those early days. “You might have a hundred blankets, but this one came as a gift from you to me to give me comfort,” she says. “Who couldn’t use an extra throw blanket?” For a cozy blanket that’ll last for years, Decorist creative director Jessica McCarthy recommends a wool throw from Minnesota-based brand Faribault Woolen Mill. “It’s the type of blanket that is crafted to last for generations and still made today in a historic factory,” she says.

We’ve written about the soothing effects of weighted blankets before, and Maidenberg says this would be a good situation for one. As she says, using one “feels as if you’re being embraced.” It’s a way to give your friend a comforting hug, even if you can’t do so in person right now. The woven Bearaby blanket, one of our top picks to gift, also just looks nice draped over a sofa or favorite chair.

“Mindfulness practices can help us explore our grief-related feelings, create a space for healing from our loss, and help us work toward acceptance,” says Brennan. Along with its meditations geared toward sleep — which Brennan says is often disrupted during these difficult times — she also likes that the Headspace app has a dedicated program for dealing with grief.

For the grieving friend who’s also interested in yoga, Cohen recommends a gift card for virtual Grief Yoga classes, a style of yoga that blends movement and breathing techniques with emotional release. She says she’s had clients who “swear by it” for coping with loss.

In the pre-COVID times, Cohen would recommend taking a friend to the movies to momentarily distract them from their loss. That is again possible now that theaters have reopened, but for anyone who would rather not step back into a crowded cinema, she says you can still create a “pocket of fun” by booking an online cooking class for a group of family or friends. In fact, she says a virtual experience may be even better, since the bereaved person can simply do it from home without having to go anywhere or get dressed up. Because it’s relatively inexpensive, she says if they get overwhelmed and want to leave in the middle, it’s “no big deal.” While any type of class would work, Cohen especially likes cooking, because there’s an edible reward at the end. In our roundup of the best online cooking classes, we highlighted this Indian class led by instructor Neha Gupta. Participants called her “friendly, patient, and personable,” noting her dishes call for easy-to-find ingredients.

Books on grief can be tricky as you don’t want it to feel like a reading assignment, nor do you want to come across as giving unsolicited advice. Cirlin says “you can read 5,000 books and you wake up the next day and your loved one is still dead and you still feel like crap.” But experts do like Joan Didion’s memoir chronicling the year after her husband died. It’s not a self-help book, but rather one that offers a portrayal of grief that others can identify with. Cohen says The Year of Magical Thinking “resonates with everybody,” and it was the most-recommended title when we wrote about the best books about grief. “They may not want to read it right away, but gradually they’ll open it up and it’ll probably be helpful,” says Cohen.

If they’re a parent who is dealing with loss and also helping their own children grieve, this book — also from our list of the best books about grief — can be a helpful resource. According to Dr. Donna L. Schuurman, senior director of advocacy and training at the Dougy Center, it offers strategies and advice that “help parents navigate their own grief as well as better understand how to support their children following the death of a family member.”

Gifts for remembering a loved one

Wolfelt says “a small photo of the person who died in a nice frame” is another way to honor their memory. If you want to get a photo professionally framed, we like Level Frames because the easy-to-use service ships fast. It offers many frame styles, but Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo recommends this weathered black one that is “dark but with subtle highlights that keep it from looking too heavy or serious.”

If you’d rather let your recipient choose a photo, Maidenberg reminds us that you can also just give a handsome frame. As Affordable Interior Design owner Betsy Helmuth once told us, “you can make the most mundane photo sparkle with a mirrored frame.” This one with an antique-y finish comes in a handful of sizes, so there’s likely an option that’ll fit your budget.

From $150

A digital frame would not only make the process of displaying a photo easier for the bereaved — especially if you were to upload images yourself before giving it — but would also let them look at lots of pictures because the technology is capable of cycling through a bunch. This highly reviewed model from Nixplay (that new grandparents also love) makes it easy for anyone to upload photos to it as long as they have the accompanying app, so even the most far-flung friends and relatives can share a happy memory with just a few clicks.

People love mugs, and people love handmade things. Combining those by putting a photo of the person who is gone on a mug would be “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.” Cohen also likes the idea of printing a photo on any things your friend will regularly use. “If it’s a good photo, it’s an excellent memory,” she says.

For the anniversary of a friend’s father’s death, Maidenberg created a trivet on Shutterfly with a photo collage of pictures of her friend with her dad. “She absolutely loved that,” she says. She likes that you can grab images from social media to make a customized gift without bothering your friend with requests for photos. Brennan also likes the idea of a photo collage. “When we look at pictures of our loved ones, it helps to keep our memories present and remember what made them special to us,” she says. “It offers us a way to reminisce and reconnect to times that we shared together.”

Gifts for grieving kids

Just like adults, grieving kids will enjoy preserving the memory of their loved one through photos, objects, and letters. If the child was close with the person who died, they might enjoy creating a memory box for the personal things they shared. “The idea is that the box is going to be the place where you’re going to hold your memories of the person,” says Brennan. “It could be tangible items, like a baseball from someone’s grandfather, pictures of him, notes he wrote.’” Cohen likes the idea of “small wooden boxes that the kids can paint,” and Brennan also suggests pairing the box with art supplies so kids can actively create something to deal with their loss.

Cirlin and Cohen both suggest age-appropriate books to help children understand their feelings around grief. This title, which also comes highly recommended by grief experts, is one of Brennan’s favorites. She says, “It’s a story of a tree and the leaves coming into the fall, and it has analogies to death” that resonate with kids.

Cohen suggests buying a “special plush toy” that a child can associate with their loved one’s memory. To differentiate it from the “90 other plush toys they likely have at home,” she says to look for one that’s extra-large, supersoft, or just “fancier” in some way so it feels more significant. She’s especially fond of oversize stuffed animals that are comforting for kids to sleep with. You can’t go wrong with something from German toy company Steiff (considered one of the inventors of the teddy bear), which makes a range of stuffed animals for every price point.

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31 Meaningful Condolence Gifts for Grieving Loved Ones