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. CanadaHelps.org 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?