Even though the experience of loss is universal, grief is a thoroughly complex and individual process. It’s one of the trickiest life moments we encounter, and every single one of us will likely go through it at some point in our lives, whether it’s the death of a family member, spouse or beloved pet, a miscarriage or gut-wrenching heartbreak. And despite that, many find it difficult to know how to support loved ones who are grieving. Until you’re deep in it yourself, it’s hard to know the right thing to do.
But that doesn’t mean that you should do nothing when you know someone who is grieving. Reaching out, even if just to touch base and let them know you’re thinking about them, can mean the world and help their healing journey. And if you’re someone who likes to send thoughtful gifts to show your support, then there are many that can be meaningful and kind.
Licensed art therapist Ingrid Mellor said there are various ways we can help the people in our lives who are experiencing grief. If it is a person that you are very close to, she emphasized that “the most important thing we can do is to show up reliably and consistently.” This includes checking in to see how they are doing, listening and offering support in whatever way is appropriate to your relationship. She also recommends asking what you can do to help, instead of asking if you can help. It is, however, “important to remain mindful of different boundaries with people like co-workers, acquaintances, long-lost exes, etc.,” she said. Basically, don’t make it weird or about you.
When it comes to finding ways to make yourself useful to a person who is grieving, Mellor’s advice is to lean into your own unique skill set. “Are you organized? Maybe they need help going through the belongings of the person they lost,” she said. “Are you a good listener with a good memory? Perhaps you can be their go-to person for support at appointments.”
You can also help to connect them to helpful resources, such as grief counselors and support groups like Red Door Community and bereavement programs at Ronald McDonald House.
When it comes to sympathy gifts, Mellor recommends starting with food: “I love Mealtrain, a website that lets you organize food deliveries for people.” But meals can come in the form of gift certificates to meal delivery apps, restaurant delivery or even signing up to deliver a home-cooked meal, which Mellor noted is a personal touch that can feel really comforting. Beyond that, she recommends cozy, tactile items and something to help them honor the person they lost, like a scrapbook or memory book.
Below, we’ve rounded up a list of 11 sympathy gifts that brought comfort to people when they were in the midst of processing a loved one’s death. It includes both small tokens of love as well as incredibly moving and thoughtful larger gestures. Keep this list on hand when someone you know has suffered a loss and could use a bit of extra love and comfort from the people in their lives.
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A custom quilt made from their loved one’s shirts
“My dad dressed up for work every Monday [through] Friday of his life, and my most tangible memory of him is his dress shirts. After he died, I made a quilt out of them so I can wrap myself up in memories of him any time I want. My mom also makes incredible quilts made of T-shirts, and you can find lots of makers on Etsy who’ll do it for you. You just send them your loved one’s T-shirts, and they cut them into squares and patch it all together, complete with batting, backing and a border. Knowing how many hundreds of hours of work it took for me to make a quilt, the price these Etsy makers charge seems surreally low. It’s one of the sweetest gifts you can give, as long as you’re sure someone’s willing to part with those shirts.” — Kristen Aiken, head of Life and Commerce at HuffPost
When my partner Veronica lost her 18-year-old poodle, her sister-in-law gave her socks covered in pictures of adorable Georgie’s puppy face. They’re so special to her that she refuses to wear them, though she pulls the socks out of the dresser to look at them from time to time. It’s a sweet and thoughtful gift — Veronica mentions them often and they were clearly very impactful. It’s a very caring option for anyone who has recently lost a pet.
A self care basket from Etsy
Senior HuffPost editor Janie Campbell said that a friend who recently lost a spouse told her that the best sympathy gift she received was a self-care basket with bath items. She loved it because the giver understood that she deserved time to take care of herself. This spa set from Etsy seller NaturalAmor
can be customized to include scents and items that you know your loved one will appreciate.
One big thing that HuffPost Shopping staff writer Tessa Flores observed was how distracting grief can be. Little everyday things like eating a meal or washing your face aren’t priorities. Because of this, Flores said that one of the most utilized sympathy gifts she received was a basket filled with self-care items like gift cards to local restaurants, a candle, her favorite face lotion and a stuffed animal warming pad she can heat up in the microwave.
Artifact Uprising hardcover photo book
When actor Christy Escobar
lost her father-in-law, she made the entire extended family a photo book for their first Christmas without him. She said that “it didn’t take too long to make and they all opened it at the same time. It was a lovely moment to remember him on an otherwise hectic day.” Artifact Uprising has a large selection of photo book designs available at a range of price points, but Escobar picked this elegant hardcover option.
Moleskin classic notebook
Flores also noted that in her gift basket, “there was also a Moleskin notebook for journaling which I really appreciated because, in my opinion, writing can be such a therapeutic way for someone to work through loss.”
Anthropologie Sofie faux fur blanket
Per licensed art therapist Ingrid Mellor’s recommendation of gifting “cozy, tactile items,” we’re including a deliciously cozy and soft faux fur blanket from Anthropologie.
HuffPost’s director of office services, Greta Geiselman, raves about it. “I’ve had it for two months and it’s incredibly warm and cozy. Plus, it’s slightly weighted, which adds to the plush therapy of it all.”
A personalized ornament with a photo of their loved one
“My aunts made little ornaments out of my Abuelita’s Christmas-colored lightbulbs and sent one to each member of the family. It was so thoughtful, I cried when I opened it.” — Escobar
If the holidays are approaching, or you want to send a friend a small token of someone they lost earlier in the year, a custom Christmas tree ornament is a sweet and thoughtful gift that they can enjoy every holiday season. Etsy seller CraftleatherGifts makes lovely personalized ornaments that will be sure to touch your friend’s heart.
A lavender-scented sloth warmie
Flores received a plush stuffed animal warming pad that she found incredibly comforting, like this sweet sloth at Amazon. You just pop it in the microwave and cuddle up for a gentle, warm hug.
A personalized necklace
“My boyfriend’s mother passed several years ago and two years ago I got t
his necklace personalized with a photo of them together. He wears it on tough days and during life milestones to keep her close.” — Kristen Adaway, HuffPost shopping writer
Made of stainless steel, this durable and thoughtful necklace at Amazon can be customized to include both a photo and engraving. it even doubles as an urn necklace and can hold ashes, hair or dried flowers.
“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion
My uncle and grandfather passed away within days of each other several years ago, and I struggled to process it all from the other side of the country. A friend recommended reading Joan Didion’s beautiful book about death and grief, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” and I found it far more healing than any self-help book could have been. I still turn to it during moments of loss and hardship.
Artifact Uprising baby board book
Escobar gave birth to her first child shortly after her father-in-law passed away and made a baby board book about him for her newborn daughter and husband to enjoy together. Her husband, Mat, was incredibly touched — it’s almost a year later still reads the book to their baby.
Artifact Uprising allows you to upload pictures and text to create a custom baby board book. You can pick from a variety of color schemes and page count, for a unique and thoughtful gift that even the smallest family member can enjoy and learn about their lost loved one.