The holidays are usually a time of celebration and togetherness with family and friends. Gifts are exchanged, people host parties, and there's plenty of food to be passed around—throughout the season, there's a kind warm joy that wraps around us like a heated blanket. But for those who have lost someone special in their lives, these joyous days can often serve as a painful reminder of the person's absence. And while loved ones may want to show their support and offer sympathy gifts, communicating with a person during a time of bereavement and grief is a very delicate act that requires understanding of what the person fundamentally needs.
- Virginia A. Simpson, PhD, bereavement specialist
So, what are sympathy gifts exactly? According to bereavement specialist Dr. Virginia A. Simpson, Ph.D., FT, the best gift is being there for them, literally.
"Your presence is the main thing," Dr. Virginia says. What this looks like is inviting them out to lunch, taking them on a walk, or suggesting to play a sport they like. "Just stuff to add joy to their lives. When it's time for them to grieve, they will grieve. When they need to cry, they'll cry. And you have to be okay with allowing somebody to have their tears. Tears are healing."
Although we may want to cure someone's grief with a simple quick fix solution, it's not something that you as the gift giver have control over. Instead, it's necessary to be there for them as a reliable support system when they need to talk. But while your presence is the most important gift of all, you can also show up in other ways. "Write cards, send cards, write notes, bring food, send flowers, remind them you're thinking of them," Dr. Virginia says. If you're not sure what may be appropriate or where to start, take a look at the picks below.
The best sympathy gifts: flowers and plants
If you really want to show your support during a difficult time, you can never go wrong with a bouquet of flowers. Not only are they beautiful, but studies have shown that flowers also have the power to boost your mood. Case in point: this floral arrangement includes a mix of rosemary, garden roses, and spiral eucalyptus to serve as a calming and uplifting influence.
Remind your loved one that they’re in your thoughts and prayers by sending them an interactive card from Lovepop. In the event that you can’t send real flowers, this card bundle includes one paper tulip bouquet and one pop-up card that you can personalize with a special message.
Adding a touch of greenery to any living space is a surefire way to create a more soothing, calming and healthier environment. In fact, succulents and other cacti plants have the power to remove toxins and purify the air in your home. You can choose between an assortment of three or six succulents.
In the plant world, bonsai trees can serve as a powerful symbol of harmony, balance and peace, which is why they are such a popular choice for indoor and outdoor gardens. Plus, they’re also generally low-maintenance and produce beautiful green foliage in full bloom.
If your friend is overwhelmed with an abundance of flowers, give them a place to store them with this set of ceramic vases. There are three vases of varying sizes that they can keep together or space around the house, and they come in off-white, blue and brown, gray and white, and multicolor.
What better way to make someone’s say than to bring the sunshine to them? Each care package includes a soy candle, a live succulent plant, a pair of earrings, and most importantly, a card that says “Thinking of You.”
The best sympathy gifts: personalized gifts
For a small and impactful gift, consider a personalized piece of jewelry from Gorjana. This bespoke bracelet is gold pleated and features a small space inside for you to engrave a name, a special message or a memorable destination.
A customized illustration is a super sentimental gift, and it’ll help your friend immortalized the person or people they’ve lost—and what’s great about it, is you don’t have to hire a professional artist to make it happen. Just send over a picture of you and your loved one and you will receive a digital print within a few days.
Anytime the wind blows, you can be reminded that your loved one is with you (at least, if that’s in line with your spiritual beliefs—it’s certainly not for everyone). This memorial wind chime features an engraved message that reads, “Listen to the wind and know that I’m near” and plays a soothing harmony when the wind strikes it. It also comes with a top hook that makes it perfect to hang outdoors on your patio or above your porch.
Help record the memories of your loved one with a high-tech digital photo album. The Aeezo picture frame allows you to directly upload photos from your phone as well as send them to your family and friends. You can also invite your family members to share photos to the same frame using WiFi.
The best sympathy gifts: self-care and care boxes
It’s not easy to control anxious thoughts, but this Komuso flute pendant is here to help support your struggle. Designed by a psychotherapist, this tool works by getting you to actively focus on your breathing in a time of anxiety. Simply inhale and exhale through the flute to help slow your breath and decrease stress.
During a time of grief, it’s important to remember to be kind to yourself. And one way to do that is through taking care of your spiritual and physical body. This wellness package includes the tools to do that. For example, it comes with a set of mindfulness cards to help center your thoughts, and an eye pillow scented with lavender, and flaxseed to help calm your mind and relax your body.
A great way to decrease stress is through wrapping yourself in a weighted blanket. FYI: Weighted blankets work by using deep pressure stimulation (a type of physical therapy that mimics the feeling of being hugged) as a way to help reduce stress levels, anxiety and insomnia.
In an attempt to manage stressful and anxious thoughts, journaling can be incredibly nourishing. In fact, spending anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes writing down your emotions on a regular basis can serve as a huge therapeutic release for unprocessed and suppressed feelings.
Making art is not only a creative process, but it can also be a powerful mood-boosting activity to reduce anxiety and stress. And if you’re looking to try your hand at unleashing your inner artist, this set has everything you need to get started, including: 18 acrylic paints, six different-sized brushes, one plastic palette knife, one plastic palette, and one painting canvas.
There is a reason why we love to be by the beach and it isn’t just because of the view. A 2018 study found that listening to the sound of nature, especially water, can actually help “induce relaxation.” That said, this indoor water fountain can serve as the perfect place of zen in your home.
This Herbivore set is a three-step skin-care routine that is used to help target dryness, dullness and roughness. The set comes with a Moroccan rose scented body scrub to slough dead skin cells, a coconut bath soak, and soothing Himalayan pink bath crystals. A bath can help with relaxation, stress, and give you some quiet time to yourself—this Soak and Soften kit can enhance that and make it feel extra special.
With over 4,000 customer ratings and 91 percent 5-star reviews on Amazon, this blanket is a clear fan-favorite for bringing warmth and encouragement to many households. Made of solely of polyester, this comfy cover is adorned with short inspirational words to help uplift anyone who is underneath it.
“I ordered this blanket for my neighbor who has cancer, and feel it is the perfect gift to show I care what she is going through,” one shopper wrote. ‘The positive sentiments on it are encouraging and the blanket itself is super soft, cozy and great quality as well as value.”
If you want your house to smell like a spa (aka, calming, gorgeous scents that can elevate your mood), then consider this Diptyque candles set. It has four mini candles with warm and floral scents to create a relaxing atmosphere. It’s also luxurious-feeling and feels extra special.
It’s probably that the last thing your friend wants to do is be social, which is understandable. If your giftee is spending much-needed time at home, give them something soft and comfortable to wear. Made of a lightweight cotton blend, this top is perfect to curl up on the couch as you binge-watch Netflix. Just pair it with the matching bottoms for a head-to-toe cozy outfit.
Besides the fact that these slippers are super comfortable, they also are specifically designed to hug your arches and support your foot’s natural shape so you can walk with ease. If your giftee is spending more time at home, they’ll find a new pair of slippers actually useful.
If you want to offer up some encouraging words of wisdom, you can do so with this colorful serving tray. On it, it displays the words “This Too Shall Pass” as a gentle reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, we’ve heard this one before, but it’s strange how powerful these classic mantras can really be.
Care packages really can spark a lot of joy and meaning in someone’s life, and this one is no exception. It’s based on Kintsugi, the Japanese art of restoring broken pottery pieces with gold. It can often be used a healing metaphor for embracing your shortcoming and flaws.
The best sympathy gifts: food
If you really want to take some time to unwind and have some “me time,” you can do so with this tea set from The Qi. With it, you get one glass server, two small glass cups, one bamboo tong for steeping, and nine individually-packed flowers for making Shangri-La tea. As a bonus, the tea is packed with a slew of antioxidants that can help protect you against free radical damage.
Sometimes the best way to comfort someone is through the power of food, and this set of handmade baked goods does that, plus a bit more. It comes with an assortment of apple- and raspberry-filled croissants, muffins, and tea breads to make for one deliciously sweet breakfast.
Comfort your friend with some hot soup. Well, the closest you can get to hot soup without either ordering it or bringing a fresh pot over. Fly By Jing makes a delicious all-natural hot pot base (made with ginger, star anise, clove, and Sichuan pepper) that makes soup-making incredibly easy. If your giftee likes to cook, this is the perfect gift, since it still engages their passion for food, but they don’t have to start from scratch.
If you want to make someone smile, cookies usually are a safe bet. This Levain bakery gift box includes eight cookies from chocolate chip walnut and dark chocolate chocolate chip, to dark chocolate peanut butter chip and oatmeal raisin.
For the caffeine lover, make their life a bit easier by gifting them with a temporary subscription of Blue Bottle Coffee. For a limited time, they’ll get bags of a blend of single origin coffee beans freshly roasted to make their cup of Joe in the morning. The brand changes the single origin coffee every two weeks.
Want to give something that feels home-made? Bissinger’s chocolate gooey butter cake tastes like it just came out of the oven. Have it delivered to your friend from anywhere.
The best sympathy gifts: pets
If you’re coping with the loss of a beloved pet, you can relive the good memories with this super thoughtful plush replica of your furry friend. You can request any animal, including including dogs, cats, rabbits, and horses.
The best sympathy gifts: subscription services
It’s no secret that surrounding yourself with greenery can help improve your mood. And with this year-long Horti subscription, you’ll be able to always have some green babies around you every day, all day. Each month you’ll get a curated plant kit that you can take care of and put to use your plant parenting skills. And a distraction like plant caretaking can be helpful during a distressful time.
One of the best ways to help someone in a time of need is to take care of some of the mundane things in their life, such as what to make for dinner. Through this Purple Carrot meal delivery service, your loved one will receive up to four weeks worth of plant-based meals.
Take some of the load off of your friends and family by gifting them a free house cleaning. Handy is a special cleaning service that makes your home spick and span, and completes all the action items on to-do list within a three-hour period. What we like about it, is that you can book services online and specify and special requests and need
Known for its mindfulness activities and programs, Headspace can be a great support system and the perfect way to introduce some positivity into your loved’s one life. This year-long subscription gives them access to dozens of guided meditations on a variety of topics including relationships and stress.
What to look for in a sympathy gift
Ultimately, the goal of a sympathy gift is to comfort someone and let them know you're thinking of them. The best gift will depend on your relationship with the person, as well their personality, but here are a few things to look for.
It goes without saying that the gift should be something the recipient likes, not what you like. Just because you like to have lots of flowers around, they may not. Think of what their favorite foods or things are. If you are close with the person, you may want to go a step further and personalize the gift with the name of the person they lost, a special quote, or something else that is meaningful to them.
The last thing you want to do is inconvenience someone with your gift. And sometimes the most practical gifts are the most appreciated. During times of grieving, a meal delivery service can make it easier for them to eat regular meals, or cozy slippers can make sure their feet stay warm.
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- Xie, Junfang et al. “How Can Flowers and Their Colors Promote Individuals’ Physiological and Psychological States during the COVID-19 Lockdown?.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 18,19 10258. 29 Sep. 2021, doi:10.3390/ijerph181910258
- Thoma, Myriam Verena et al. “Preliminary evidence: the stress-reducing effect of listening to water sounds depends on somatic complaints: A randomized trial.” Medicine vol. 97,8 (2018): e9851. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000009851
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