An Open Discussion on…Sympathy Gifts

During my time off I did a lot of thinking about some things I’d like to test out with the blog. You’ll probably see some of them come to fruition over the next while, and this is one of them. I’m not married to anything I test out here, but I’d love to get your feedback!

Anyway, while on break, someone who knows of my gift-giving prowess reached out, because a coworker of theirs had recently lost someone. The office had decided they wanted to band together and gift her with something, but weren’t sure what (they didn’t want to do flowers). She asked if I’d ever tackled the subject, and the simple answer is – I haven’t. Not on this blog anyway.

I contemplated writing a post just about grief gift ideas, but something about it felt gauche and weird, so instead I thought I’d open up a little post about my general thoughts on the subject – and invite you to share yours, in case someone stumbles on this blog and is struggling with a gift idea for someone who has lost a loved one.

When should I buy a grief gift? 
I’m not talking about literal timing here – I’m talking about ‘who’. If it’s a colleague, I think sending a gift along is a nice sentiment, but I typically would suggest it be directed or approved by the most senior member of your team. For example, if your coworker’s parent dies, check in with your respective boss to see if they’re on board with collecting money to send them an item before you actually start collecting. In some cases it may be more appropriate for the office to send something instead, hence the check-in. If your most senior colleague is affected by a loss, go to the second most senior person for the same discussion.

Regarding close friends and family, of course, it’s probably an easier decision to make to send something, especially since you likely also knew the deceased. Keep in mind however, that the most critical gift of all right now might be providing emotional support instead.

That’s actually what makes grief gifting quite challenging or tricky. You need to assess your relationship to the deceased and to the surviving person most impacted, and their respective relationship to each other. If your coworker passes away, do you send a gift to their spouse / family? If a friend’s relative dies, do you know how close they were / how affected they are?

See what I mean? Kind of gauche. Kind of hard to assess and talk about. But my best advice is to ask those three questions (How well did I know the deceased? How well do I know the surviving person? What was their relationship?) and kind of take it from there.

What should I buy?
So, you’ve decided sending a gift is appropriate. The question is what. The three questions I suggested you ask above may help you decide to spend a certain budget…but in general, I don’t really like the idea of ‘ranking’ the deceased in someone’s life via gift value.

No matter what, perhaps the BEST piece of advice I can give when it comes to sympathy gift giving is to remember that you cannot replace what this person has just lost. I know the idea is to just show that you’re thinking of someone, but recognize that it might be entirely lost on them regardless, so don’t try to shoot for the stars.

Here’s a few thoughts on what you can consider buying when someone is grieving:


  • Flowers: This is of course, the most classic approach to sending condolences, but it has indeed received backlash over the years. When in doubt, I think it’s still a fine option, but it can feel a little impersonal and it can definitely get overwhelming if someone is receiving dozens of bouquets at once. Try a site like Teleflora (that’s their bouquet pictured above) for national delivery and an entire sympathy section.


  • Charitable Donation: Oftentimes when someone passes away from a specific illness, the family will post an obituary that will ask for a charitable donation to be made in lieu of flowers. Honour that, even if it doesn’t feel tangible. allows you to donate to virtually any charity in Canada (I’m not advocating you provide a gift card for the surviving person, by the by – just make the donation yourself).


  • Edible Arrangements: Grief can stop you in your tracks, making it hard to eat. Oftentimes people will bring over casseroles galore to keep you satiated, but another option that’s somewhere between that and a bouquet of flowers is an edible bouquet. Edible Arrangements is available in most major Canadian cities and again, has a sympathy section you can shop from (the person who contacted me about grief gifts I believe went this route after consulting with me).


  • Service Gift Cards: I waffle on this one, but hear me out. As I mentioned above, grief can freeze time, in a way. If you can’t physically be there for someone (or perhaps it’s not appropriate given your relationship), perhaps gift them with something that will help ease them back into their regular lives when they’re ready. For example, you could gift them with a gift card to a meal delivery service like Chef’s Plate (Use #CANADIANGIFTGUIDE when setting up an account for 3 free plates) or Skip the Dishes. Or you could get them a gift card for a house cleaning service, babysitting, you name it – something that will ease the pressures of ‘life maintenance’.

There’s other stuff I could suggest or mention as grief gifts that are good alternatives to flowers. A ‘photo gift’ like a framed print or book might be a nice idea – but probably not while the grief is still fresh and raw. If you have any photos that person has never seen of their loved one, start there.

If the affected person has children, think about something for them; their caretaker will surely appreciate a way to keep the kids occupied while they might not be at their most attentive.

You can also look out for charitable options that go beyond just a donation; a commemoration if you will, like buying a ’tile’ in a new community building project, adopting an animal at a zoo, purchasing a ‘chair’ in a theatre, and so on.

Anyway, those are my thoughts when it comes to sympathy gifts and alternatives to flowers. I hope they’re helpful – and I’d be curious to hear from you. What mourning gifts have you sent or received? Did anything stand out as particularly memorable or touching?

14 Responses to “An Open Discussion on…Sympathy Gifts”
  1. katydidit21 says:

    I have the privilege to be with grieving men, women and children on a regular basis. it has been my experience that it is more about what you say and your genuine concern than the things that you give. It is such a personal process for them. A sincerely heartfelt, “I am sorry for your loss.” or a card means so much. “Tell me about him/her.”, often means the world. Flowers, plants and prepared food are great gifts if you feel you need to give or send something. I personally would not give a gift card or a service that they would need to book or redeem. Death often makes people uncomfortable and at a loss for words or they find themselves saying the wrong thing with best of intentions. I have certainly done that. I think it’s great that you approached a sensitive subject with such grace.

  2. doreen lamoureux says:

    Thanks………. great ideas

  3. Danielle says:

    I think a service gift might be a useful idea. When you’re dealing with extreme grief, doing things like cleaning the house, or cooking for a family are nearly impossible at times. Perhaps a gift card for a maid service, or meal preparing / delivering. Even a massage or some sort of self-care package would be lovely to receive. I remember when my mother passed when I was a young age, someone dropped me off a care package consisting of pyjamas, toiletries and little activity books etc (something a mother would put together). I still think of that gesture to this day.

  4. Lisa Solomon says:

    I think its important to also acknowledge long-time pets; when someone close loses a beloved pet, it is extremely difficult and heartbreaking. My go-to sympathy gifts are memory stones for the garden/yard, willow tree angels, or a gift certificate to a greenhouse/nursery so that they can choose a plant/tree that can be placed in their yard.

  5. There is nothing more helpful during those times than food or services like lawn mowing or house cleaning. They are necessities, but when are grieving they seem like impossible chores. Love ‘The Chef’s Plate’ idea.

  6. sophie lapierre says:

    By far, my first answer was a food service delivering. Not having to do the grocery, to think about the meals for the whole week and cook is a Big deal when you’re in a situation of losing a close person because you need all the energy you have. Plus, being a good listener can be very helpful when this person needs to talk, evacuate some thoughts, memories, stress or whatever it could be…

  7. Judy says:

    I think having meals made for the family is very helpful and practical. When my father died recently I was surprised that so many people sent cash with thier sympathy cards to my step mother. That was the first I ever heard of that. Maybe it’s a European thing.

  8. Alana LeSueur says:

    I really liked your suggestions for the meals’ services. Everything depends on, your closeness to the person(s) grieving and what relationship they even have, to the deceased. I was thinking about what I would love, if I lost my husband or mother, and I would love the food, the desserts (baked goods), perhaps having someone pick me up and take me to lunch or dinner as a temporary means of escape from the offers a chance to talk about your loved one in a neutral zone,so to speak…But, thank you for this topic to be discussed, it is a great great conversation to bring up, as it has made me think of all the friends, who have lost loved ones, and the only thing I ever did, besides call, send a condolence card, was to donate to the family’s chosen charity.

  9. Susan says:

    Thank you for broaching a topic that all of us will have to deal with at some point. I have prepared food and given already prepared food (M & M’s frozen selection), sent flowers, given charitable donations, sent sympathy cards, and run errands. You are right that your relationship with the deceased or their family dictates what you might choose to do. I feel any attempt at kindness isn’t wasted.

  10. Lorna Braun says:

    Being on both sides here’s my take.
    Flowers always always is last resort. Recipients end up with so many at once can’t appreciate them, plus they don’t last long. You could buy a potted plant.
    #1-get together “comfort food” items. Put them in a gift bag. The more non-perishable the better but include some perishable (fruits & veggies if you want). Some ideas – soups, cookies, chocolate (of course), junk food, canned items, crackers, pickles, cheese (lasts a long time), vac packed deli meat (again lasts a long time), salad dressing, pasta, sauces, etc. Whatever you feel they’d enjoy-could include frozen products. Perishables item examples: apples, oranges, grapes, carrots, little tomatoes, etc. In grief, food is the last thing on your mind & if hunger strikes you perfer the grab & go feel better sort of thing. Depending how well you know the person include teas, coffees (their kind pods, beans or ground), pop, bottled water, juices, wine-again if you know their likes/dislikes, etc. These too are all great grab/feel better “items”. Can also inclue napkins or go to $store & buy a couple nice tea towels & dish cloths. We all use these. If there’s young kids include “kid” foods or toys. Popcorn is always good for all ages. Use your imagination.
    #2-Charitable donation is also a good alternative. Again this depends on your relationship with deceased family etc.
    #3-if you know them quite well set up a day & take them out for supper or invite them to your place for a day & supper. For a young family arrange to take kids to water slide, park, swimming, a movie etc. Parent(s) of young families need a break too & sometimes that little bit of quietness may lead to a much needed sleep. Offer to take kids to/from school if necessary.

    Those are my takes/ideas

  11. Gigi says:

    When a coworkers beloved dog died we made a donation to the Humane Society and she LOVED it. She was so touched.

  12. Victoria Ess says:

    These are really great ideas for someone who is going through the grief process. I especially love the service GC idea.

  13. Shelley Nelson says:

    I think bringing over a main meal item so the family do not have to worry about cooking is a great thing. The edible arrangement would be good since there are always people over during this time frame and fruit is a good option.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] for weighing in last week everyone, on my post related to sympathy and grief gift ideas. That was a delicate subject, to put it lightly, so this week I’m lightening things up a bit […]

Tell me what you think...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: