Ten Sympathy Gift Etiquette Tips

When someone close to you loses a friend or family member, it can be difficult to know the best way to offer support. Many questions come up: how can we help? What should we do?

Many people traditionally send flowers, plants, and fruit baskets. This is thoughtful and shows you care. On the other hand, when my sister experienced a death in her family last year, she became overwhelmed with what to do with all of the flowers that came to the house in the first couple of days, and then a week later the flowers were dead and she felt so lonely. Like I said, when someone dies, “normal” things can become very difficult, often in unexpected ways.

So what is the appropriate etiquette for gift giving for sympathy and funeral occasions? You want to be respectful, and actually meet the needs of the bereaved without causing more burden. It’s often very difficult to know what to do, but here are some tips that may help you navigate the hard times with friends and family, with some ideas that may communicate your condolences in tactful, tasteful ways.

White Lillies1. Send yourself. Be present. It is easier to see what the needs are when you yourself are physically sharing the hard moments with the bereaved.

2. If you can’t be there yourself, this is when flowers, cards, plants, and baskets become more meaningful. Again, remember that flowers die quickly, and the bereaved will have to throw them away. Potted plants usually work better – they require little maintenance, last a long time and symbolize hope and peace (Peace Lilies for example).

3. Make a donation in the name of the departed. In my sister’s case, when her son died, we ended up making a donation to a nonprofit that collects the playful drawings of school children and delivers them to the elderly, shut-in, and infirm. We did this to try to share the love he brought into the world with others less fortunate, even though he was gone.

4. Give the family a permanent keepsake – something with the departed’s initials, a favorite saying of theirs, a shadowbox of their most precious belongings, or special photos. For Christmas the year after my nephew died, my aunt gave the family a toy train in which each car of the train was a letter of his name. This was very meaningful and the kind of thing that lasts forever.

5. Send a gift even if there is not a service. There are many valid reasons a family will choose not to have a service. Even so, the family still needs support and to know that they are not alone.

6. Plan to send a gift or card on the one-month anniversary of the death, three months, six months, and one year. This lets the bereaved know that they are not forgotten. Remember that the grieving process can take months or years. Most gifts come and go in the first two weeks, but the grieving process continues long after.

7. If you were close to the deceased but don’t know the family, send a gift to the widow/widower, or the eldest surviving relative. In the card, explain briefly how you knew the deceased, what they meant to you, and that you extend your deepest condolences.

8. If you are close to someone who is grieving but do not know the deceased, sending a gift to your friend is also still very appropriate. Acknowledging their grief and helping them feel supported will help them know they aren’t alone. Also take the initiative to make meals, do housework, or go grocery shopping.

9. If the family requests for donations in lieu of flowers, honor their request. Send the family a card explaining your donation, how much the departed meant to you and how their legacy lives on.

10. After the one-year anniversary has passed, cards are more appropriate than gifts. By this point the healing process has begun, and large extravagant gifts such as flowers or fruit baskets may bring back all the feelings of the funeral week. A card lets the family know you still care and that they are not forgotten, any time of year.

GiftTree does have some unique gifts for sympathy and funeral occasions. No matter how you choose to respond to a sudden tragedy, the most important thing is to show those left behind that you care and that you’re there with them for the long haul.

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