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14 Special Sympathy Gift Ideas That Aren’t Flowers

This is part of Cake's collection of Condolences articles. Create a Cake profile for free to discover, document, and share your end-of-life wishes.

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When a friend or loved one is grieving, it can be difficult to come up with the appropriate response. Sympathy gifts, cards—it's hard to find a way to show your support during this difficult time. 

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It's also hard to find something that doesn't feel like a cliche. Cliches can sometimes diminish the expression of your thoughts. Sending funeral flowers is a tried-and-true classic, but what if your friend doesn’t like flowers? 

If you’re trying to come up with unique ideas that aren’t flowers, here’s what you need to know. 

Gift Ideas to Send to a Funeral Home

Gift ideas can range from handwritten letters to edible arrangements. Here are some great ideas if you don’t want to send flowers to a funeral.

Photo albums

A photo album is a touching keepsake. You might have photos of the deceased person that the family doesn’t. If you have mutual friends with the deceased, consider reaching out to them for photos as well. 

You can offer copies of these photos or compile them into a book. You can also pick a special frame and give them the gift of an important photo.

If you create a photo album, you can send it to the funeral home. Call ahead and confirm they’re accepting gifts other than flowers. Then, mail or deliver it to the funeral home. If it’s an envelope full of photos, it is better to deliver it to the family yourself. 

Write a letter

A book full of letters is a unique way to preserve the deceased’s legacy. Have friends and family members write letters about the deceased or offer condolences and compile them. Then, place them in a book to give to the person closest to them. Whether it’s a funny story or a snapshot of a special relationship, this helps save memories. 

If these letters are handwritten or printed, you have two choices. You can put them in a three-ring binder. Or, you can pay to have it bound and printed. Many print shops offer this service. And they can help you create a book that looks beautiful and is meaningful.  

Name a star

Bring this up with your loved one before purchasing this unique gift. There are a few organizations that reserve and name stars. You can find them online, and they provide a star certificate.

The named star is also recorded in a registry book for posterity. You can give this to family members as a keepsake. As a memorial, it is a beautiful option. 

Create a personalized guestbook

People are familiar with signing their names when they attend a service, but you can create a personalized version. People can leave a message for the bereaved family, along with their signature. 

If coming up with messages is hard, try another angle. It’s hard to know how to offer condolences, but sharing memories is a great way. Bring a guest book that has plenty of space.

And include a card with instructions to let people know they can write longer messages. People can personalize their notes without worrying about space. And the family of the bereaved will get special memories of their loved one. 

Offer your time

It takes a major load off a grieving friend's shoulders. Whether you can write thank-you cards, or make calls for funeral arrangements, it all helps. It also reduces the emotional burden of those affected the most. 

When offering help, it's best to be specific. Giving a vague offer of help may not be useful. Saying something like “call me if you need anything” puts the responsibility on them. Coming up with specific offers makes all the difference.  

Personal Gift Ideas for Someone Who Lost a Loved One

Personal gifts of condolence are an important way to show that you care. Choosing a personalized gift takes time, but it’s worth it!

Make a meal

While grieving, your friend or loved one may not have the energy to focus on food. Making a home-cooked meal, much less eating, might be the last thing on their mind. Making food is a great way to care for your friend. 

Something that freezes easily, like lasagna, can be defrosted when needed. Don’t overlook practical gifts. They can go a long way toward easing the concerns of day-to-day life. 

If you’re not able to cook a big meal, something smaller also works! Picking up their favorite treat and writing a condolence note could mean the world to them. Whether you go grocery shopping or drop by the bakery, it's a sweet idea. 

Donate to a charity in their name

Charitable donations have a unique place in post-funeral gifts. Today, when so many people are dying of diseases with no cure, donations are a great idea. Donations are versatile and can both honor a loved one and serve a practical purpose. You could donate to a foundation dedicated to finding a cure for cancer, for instance. 

If a gift to a research institution or foundation isn’t quite right consider other charitable options. Try finding something that will honor the deceased. What were they passionate about? Did they already give to a charity? Find out what charities they supported to help you decide where your donation should go. 

Give them a potted plant

Potted plants are a great alternative to flowers. They need less care and typically last longer. Throwing away wilted flowers could be sadder than the service for a grieving person. Giving them a gift that won’t wilt or die is a considerate gift option. 

Try to give a hardy plant. Succulents and cacti, for instance, don’t need much attention. That way, your friend or loved one won’t have to think about caring for a plant. If you’re used to writing a sympathy note for flowers, include one with your potted plant. 

Plant them a tree

In the same vein, a tree could be an appropriate sympathy gift. Planting a tree in memory of someone who has died is a powerful gesture. It contributes to the environment and creates a living memorial. You can bring up the idea with your friend or loved one to see if they like the idea. If they do, picking out a tree and planting it together can be a form of closure.

If the person who died had a favorite type of tree or loved a particular spot, take that into consideration. Personalizing this type of living memorial is an empathetic way to show how much you care. 

Let them focus on self-care

Many people can lose track of their own physical and mental health during times of grief. Remind them with gifts that focus on self-care. You can encourage this by offering gifts that help with self-care. 

Think about things your friend loves. Maybe they enjoy going to the movies, or spending a relaxing night in with a bath bomb and some scented lotion. No matter what they love doing, consider putting together a care package for them. This can help them take care of themselves and focus on something other than their grief. 

“Get Well” Sympathy Gift Ideas

Recovering physically, mentally, and emotionally--is a challenging process. Here are some ideas to help ease that process for a bereaved friend or loved one. 

Gift them something comfy

A physical gesture of comfort may be exactly the right thing to give. A “childish” gesture such as providing a blanket or a stuffed animal is both cute and comforting. These objects provide a tactile source of comfort.

Give them your time

Giving your time is often the most valuable gift. A grieving person may feel overwhelmed by the tasks of everyday life. Helping them by volunteering your time for whatever they need can be a lifesaver. 

They might have children, and you could pick them up from school a few afternoons per week. Even simpler tasks, like helping with laundry or offering to clean someone’s home, can take a load off their mind. 

Offer money, if needed

Taking time to work through the recovery process is difficult. In today’s hectic world, it can seem impossible to take the time that you need. Financial reality soon sets in. Losing a spouse can mean household income is reduced by half. Add the often exorbitant cost of funeral expenses, and they may be in debt. 

Offering money can be difficult because it’s not a subject often discussed. But this gift can relieve a lot of stress. Sending a check through the mail or enclosing it in a card helps relieve their financial burdens.

Donate days off

Another idea is making sure that your friend or loved one has the time they need to recover. If they were your coworker consider donating some of your leave to them. You can look into the process of donating leave and see if it’s an option that your company allows. 

Having a few extra days to grieve before returning to work could help immensely. Your colleague will be very grateful for such a thoughtful gift.  

What Makes the Perfect Sympathy Gift?

Thinking of the perfect gift for a bereaved friend or family member is challenging. Start by taking their tastes and religious views into account. For instance, bringing a Jewish friend a pork casserole is offensive, not empathetic. 

Also, consider what would mean the most in their circumstances. Do they have only a few photos or mementos of the deceased? Are they in financial straits? Take these factors into account to help you decide on a gift. 

Coming up with unique ideas that won't go in the trash takes thought. But don't stress over perfection. Especially during difficult times, perfection doesn't matter. Thought and empathy go a long way toward the gift you give.

Still stuck? Check out our blog posts on sympathy gift ideas for those who lost a mother and those who lost a husband.