Creative Living Ideas

A Guide to Thoughtful Sympathy Gifts

How do you express your love and concern when someone you know has lost a loved one?
There are a number of different ways that you can offer your support to someone who is grieving.  A carefully-chosen gift can be a heartfelt way to show you are thinking of them while still respecting their privacy.
In this guide, we'll explore ways to offer comfort in thoughtful and caring ways.

Thoughtful Sympathy Gift Ideas to Consider

Food Is Always Welcome

A Sympathy Gift Basket sent after the funeral is over can be very welcome and appreciated.
In the days following a loss, families are often overwhelmed with all the responsibilities that are added to their grief.  But they have to eat.  This is where you can come in.  Deliver prepared meals or even set up a chain of people to deliver a meal each day for a period of time.
Don't have time to prepare a meal for the family?  Consider ordering groceries and have them delivered to the family.  There are also manysympathy gift baskets that contain food and can be delivered for you.  A gift card to a grocery store or restaurant is also appropriate.
Families are frequently overwhelmed with food gifts right after the death of their loved one.  You may want to check with the family and see if a delivery at some other time after the funeral will be more appreciated.
Following the death of one of the firefighters lose in the 911 terrorist attack, the fire department, that he was a part of, sent dinner to the family every Monday until the family moved away five years later.  Grieving never stops even after the gifts and remembrances do.
When my father-in-law died, a gift of dinner delivered by Kentucky Fried Chicken one night and a delivered pizza on another night was very much appreciated a week or so after the funeral when I was still there helping with all the legal stuff that had to be handled.  The person ordering the deliveries checked with us first to make sure which dates would be better.

Flowers Can Be Sent

Flowers are a classic sympathy gift. You can send them to the funeral home before the funeral or to the family home.  Plants will last longer than cut flowers but either will be appreciated. Be sure to include a gift card as the family will probably receive many floral gifts during a short period of time.

You will also want to take the faith and culture of the deceased into consideration before sending flowers. What may be appropriate for one culture may be inappropriate for another. If you aren’t sure, ask the closest family member you know.  Here is some general information about funeral flowers for various faiths:

  • Catholic and Protestant Christian – Most flowers and arrangements are acceptable.
  • Mormon – Most flowers are appropriate. However, avoid arrangements on a crucifix or cross.
  • Eastern or Greek Orthodox – Most flowers are accepted, and white flowers are favored.
  • Jewish – Although you may send flowers to the family members’ homes, flowers at the funeral home are not typically displayed.  If you are in doubt, you should probably refrain from sending flowers and opt for a fruit basket sent to the home of the family instead.
  • Baha’i – Most flowers and arrangements are appropriate.
  • Buddhist – Most flowers and arrangements are appropriate.
  • Hindu – Although floral arrangements are acceptable, garlands are more common at a Hindu funeral.
  • Muslim – Many people of this religion prefer that you send money to a charity in lieu of flowers. If you choose to order flowers for an Islamic funeral, keep the arrangement simple and elegant.

Memorial stone for a deceased loved oneKeepsakes and Personalized Memorial Gift

Windchimes , garden stones,a holiday tree ornament ,key chain , or jewelry can be personalized with the name and dates of birth and death can be cherished memorial gifts that will be kept and used for years.
If the gift is for a child who has lost a special person, a stuffed animal such as a teddy bear can be comforting and memorable.

Donations to a Charity or Favorite Organization

Many times, an obituary will request that a donation be made to a chosen organization instead of sending flowers.  This can be a meaningful way to honor the memory of the deceased that will be used to create a better future for the living.

Time and Assistance Can be Important Sympathy Gifts

Offering assistance with tasks such as childcare, transportation, grocery shopping, sorting through and disposing of the deceased belongings can be more comforting and important than a material gift.  Depending on the situation, this may be the most needed gift of all.  A working parent with young children may be overwhelmed with the added responsibility of settling the estate.  An offer of childcare may be just the blessing he or she needs.
Spa Gift Basket Remind the bereaved to not neglect their own self care with a spa/bath gift basket.

A Take Care of Yourself Spa Gift Basket

A bereaved individual may tend to neglect their own care during their mourning.  You can encourage them to take care of themselves, to relax, and breathe deeply with a bath or spa gift basket sent to them a few weeks after the funeral with a note reminding them to take care of themselves.

A Handwritten Card or Letter

Sometimes a handwritten note or letter can express your sympathy even more effectively than a physical gift.  The words that you write can be incredibly comforting to someone who is in mourning.

Should you Give Money?

It may seem callous to give money but it is often the most appreciated gift of all.  The family may be facing unexpected funeral and even medical expenses.  And if the deceased was the primary breadwinner in the family, that income will be suddenly lost.

If you choose to give money, be discreet and respectful. Put your check or cash inside an envelope with the sympathy card and hand it to the person you want to receive it. If you're concerned that it won't be opened right away, you might mention that there is something extra inside.

What is the Right Time to Give a Sympathy Gift?

The ideal time to offer your condolences is as close to the funeral as possible as this is when the bereaved often needs support the most.
However, depending on the nature of the gift, it may be suitable to wait for a week or two when friends and family have left and the bereaved are left alone.  If you are sending a personalized gift, it will take some time for the personalization and delivery.
I have a customer who is a financial advisor who sends a "thinking of you" gift each Valentine's Day to his clients who are widowed.  As he says, "Their special someone is no longer there to remember them on this day of love.  So I step in and do it for them."
There is really no wrong time to express your sympathy.  Ongoing support such as checking in with the bereaved periodically, inviting them to social gatherings when they are ready, or simply lending a listening ear will always be appreciated.  If the bereaved is a senior citizen, you could obtain the information about  your local senior center that serves daily lunches and pass it on to them -- or better yet, offer to accompany them for their first visit so that they won't feel alone.

To Whom Should You Send a  Sympathy Gift?

Sending a sympathy gift, card, or letter is not limited to the family of the deceased.  If a friend has lost a good friend, he or she is probably grieving as well.  It is certainly appropriate to send something to your friend to let them know you are thinking of them during this difficult time.
We often forget the younger children of the deceased when expressing our sympathy.  But they should be remembered as well.  They may appreciate a stuffed animal or a soft blanket to cuddle with.  If they've lost a parent, you may consider stepping in and performing some of the things that parent would have done -- such as attending their sports events or taking them to a movie.

Etiquette and Cultural Considerations

When giving a sympathy gift, be aware of any cultural and religious needs of the bereaved. Different cultures and faiths have distinct traditions and expectations when it comes to mourning and expressions of sympathy. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

Religious Customs

Many religious communities have specific rituals and customs associated with mourning. For instance, in Jewish tradition, it's customary to send food baskets (shiva baskets) rather than flowers to the family of the deceased. In contrast, some Christian denominations may appreciate the gesture of sending flowers to a funeral service.
If the person is of faith you're not familiar with, contact the local church, synagogue, or temple and ask. Most clergy and people who work for the religion will be happy to advise you.  Researching the practices of the grieving family's faith can help you select a more culturally appropriate sympathy gift.

Dietary Restrictions

Some cultures and religions have dietary restrictions that may impact the type of sympathy gift you choose. For example, in Islam, halal dietary laws apply, while in Hinduism, some families may be vegetarian. Respect these dietary guidelines when selecting food-related gifts to ensure they are both thoughtful and suitable.

Color Symbolis m

Colors can hold significant cultural symbolism. In some Asian cultures, white is associated with mourning, while in Western cultures, it often symbolizes purity and peace. Be aware of these color associations when selecting flowers or other gifts to avoid unintentional offense.


Consider personalizing your sympathy gift to reflect the cultural or religious beliefs of the deceased or their family. For instance, if the family practices Buddhism, a gift that incorporates Buddhist symbols or prayers may be appreciated.


Cultural norms may also influence the timing of when it's most appropriate to give a sympathy gift. Some cultures have mourning periods that extend beyond the funeral, and it may be more fitting to offer your condolences later in the process.

Respect Privacy

In some cultures, grieving is a deeply private matter, and gestures of sympathy may be more discreet. Ensure that your gift respects the family's desire for privacy, especially if you are not very close to them.

Ask When in Doubt

If you're uncertain about the cultural preferences of the grieving family, consider reaching out to a close friend or family member who may be able to provide guidance. Asking for advice shows your respect for their cultural customs.
In conclusion, cultural sensitivity and respect are paramount when offering sympathy gifts. Taking the time to learn about and honor the customs of the bereaved not only demonstrates your empathy but also ensures that your gesture of support is received with warmth and appreciation. By being mindful of cultural considerations, you can offer a more meaningful and comforting expression of sympathy during a difficult time.

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