20 Appropriate Sympathy Gift Ideas for a Coworker

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Did you get bad news from a coworker? If you got an announcement of the death of an employee’s family member, your first thought may be that you need to get a sympathy gift for your coworker.

In addition to giving a gift, you may also want to consider how you could take over some of the work tasks while your coworker is on leave. (You may know from personal experience how hard it is to come back from a long absence.) 

Your coworker may appreciate you running reports and updating the company website more than he or she would like a flower delivery at the funeral! 

Here are some gift ideas. 

1. Buy plants or flowers

Plants or flowers are a traditional gift you may want to get to show sympathy. You might want to opt for floral arrangements at the funeral. You might choose to give a houseplant, like a palm plant, that your friend can enjoy for years to come. 

Florists can also help you with your selection. If you make your purchase online, look for specially labeled products, like this sympathy flower bouquet from Amazon— some flowers would not be appropriate to give in sympathy. 

2. Make a donation

If you are looking for a sympathy gift idea other than flowers, you may consider donating to the memorial fund chosen by the deceased’s family. Read the deceased’s obituary or contact the funeral home to discover which nonprofit group has been selected for the memorial fund. 

Sometimes families give you several options. You can choose which one to donate to in the name of the deceased. Avoid contributing to your own favorite charity to honor someone who died. Your choice may not align with the beliefs of the deceased’s family.

ยป MORE: Taking steps after a loved one's death is a final act of kindness. Here's your complete checklist.

 

3. Serve a meal

How do you say, ”I’m sorry for your loss?” Traditionally, people who are in mourning are too distraught to think about going through the logistics of preparing a meal. Take care of this task by delivering a meal to your grieving coworker. 

In the past, most of the meals would have been homemade comfort food, like freezable casseroles. It’s also appropriate to deliver meals from restaurants, especially if you know your coworker’s food preferences. 

If your coworker is going to be traveling for the funeral, consider giving gift cards to chain restaurants or a grocery store, like Whole Foods, so your coworker can use them while on the road. You may also consider giving a gift card to a coffee shop as well. 

4. Purchase a photo frame

You may have organized meals several times for your coworker because the deceased suffered from a long illness. (Read this article to know what to say to someone who has a sick family member.) If you have already provided many meals, you may consider purchasing a more personal item for your grieving coworker and friend when the family member dies.

Purchase a high-quality photo frame or engraved photo frame from a gift store or online. You may want to print out a photograph from your coworker’s social media account to include in the frame. 

5. Give a religious figurine

Some people find comfort in religious or spiritual symbols when someone dies. If you know your coworker’s beliefs, you may want to purchase an appropriate figurine to give comfort to your friend.

Consider purchasing a decorative item depicting an angel, a cross, a Star of David, or a crescent moon and star. You may want to buy rosary beads or a box to hold them if your coworker attends a Catholic church.

6. Opt for a non-religious figurine

If you aren’t sure about your coworker’s religious beliefs, avoid purchasing any items that depict a specific faith.

Instead, you may shop for another non-religious figurine or plaque to give to your coworker. Some people enjoy figurines inspired by nature, such as birds, butterflies, or seashells

7. Buy windchimes

If your coworker has a house with a yard or an apartment with a balcony, you may consider giving windchimes to your grieving coworker.

Every time he hears the melodic tinkling, they will be pleasantly reminded about their lost loved one. 

We like these personalized "in memory of" windchimes from Amazon.

8. Make a stepping stone (or buy one!)

If your coworker enjoys gardening or has a yard, you may consider purchasing a decorative stepping stone as a sympathy gift, like this personalized stepping stone. The stones can be personalized with the loved one’s name.

If you think they'd want to go to the DIY route, buy a mosaic stepping stone kit instead.

If you want something smaller and more tangible to keep close to you, Parting Stone creates beautiful, handheld cremation stones out of your loved one's ashes.

9. Craft or buy a blanket or throw

What’s more comfortable than a cozy blanket or throw? Obviously, this may not be a great choice if your town is going through a heat wave at the time of the loved one’s death.

If you want to make one yourself, you can purchase a fleece throw blanket kit with instructions and supplies.

10. Buy a garden bench

You may consider purchasing a garden bench if your coworker has the yard space. Your friend can reflect on their loved one’s life while sitting on the bench outside. 

You can easily buy a bench online, like this stone bench, and personalize the seat with a quote, the deceased's name, or another saying.

11. Purchase a journal

Perhaps you could purchase a blank journal  (we like this blank hard cover notebook) for your coworker who recently lost a loved one.

Your coworker can use the journal to help sort out the complex thoughts and emotions that follow the family member’s death. 

12. Order books about grief

If you’ve grieved a loss before, you may be familiar with a particular book that helped you sort through your complicated and devastating emotions.

Consider purchasing a copy of that book for your coworker. It may be helpful to know about your coworker’s beliefs, especially if the book is faith-based.

We recommend The Orphaned Adult by Alexander Levy and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

13. Look into grief jewelry

You can read our full guide on grief jewelry for all of our recommendations. You may also want to purchase an item that uses the deceased’s birthstone as decoration.

Perhaps you would want to choose a locket or piece of jewelry that allows your coworker to add a photo of their loved one. You may consider giving a keychain if the individual doesn’t wear jewelry.

14. Give a gift basket

You may be unsure what kind or how much food would be required for a grieving family. Instead, purchase a gift basket full snacks, like fruit, nuts, chocolates, or other items that your coworker’s family can enjoy as you share memories of the special person.

15. Make breakfast items

Meals may be more complicated to plan for a group but you could simply go to your favorite bagel or donut shop and purchase a variety pack of items for the grieving family to enjoy.

Call or text the night before to plan a time to drop off the fresh items that morning. Consider including coffee and creamers as well. If you want to send them directly to your coworker's house, order a gift basket of gourmet muffins and pastries online instead.

16. Order a fruit arrangement

Check your local area to find a business that completes attractive arrangements of fruit and sweets. Some grocery stores offer this service or you can purchase them online, like this fruit and nut basket.

Your coworker may enjoy having healthier items available to snack on while making funeral plans.

17. Give a plush bear

You may consider purchasing a small plush item like a comfort Pusheen cat, for your coworker. This might be especially appropriate if your coworker lost a child.

18. Order a memory book

Your coworker may want to find ways never to forget the individual they lost. To help your coworker never forget each unique characteristic of their loved one, you may consider purchasing a fill-in-the-blank memory book or a blank scrapbook.

19. Give a self-care subscription box

Your friend may be inundated with gifts and support messages right now, but they may suffer the most when attempting to return to regular life in a few weeks.

Consider purchasing a self-care subscription box with luxury bath items or gourmet products, like this TheraBox self-care subscription box.

20. Offer up your own PTO days

Did your coworker miss a lot of work because of a death in the family? If your company allows it, consider donating one of your paid time off (PTO) days to your coworker.

That way, your friend can earn full paychecks even if he or she cannot work full time for a while.

Be There for Your Coworker

All of these gifts are safe, generic choices. They are meant to appeal to a broad audience and would not offend most people.

However, if you have a close relationship with your coworker, you may have an idea that is not listed on this traditional list. Feel free to explore those options. 

Also, you may consider your time as a gift. Maybe mow your coworker’s grass for a month or take care of a household task that needs to be done.

Finally, you can never go wrong with sending a sympathy card if you are out of ideas. (Read this article to learn how to address a sympathy card.) Write a personalized message inside to show additional support.

The most important thing to remember is not to ignore your coworker’s loss. You may feel as if you are doing your coworker a favor by pretending that life is normal. The problem is that life is not normal for your coworker, and they would be offended if you didn’t make some comment or show of support. 

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