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25 Sympathy Gift Ideas for the Loss of a Friend or Family Member

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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Losing a friend or family member is a challenging time. Although purchasing a sympathy gift is a small way to show you care, it can have a big impact. A meaningful sympathy gift does not need a huge sum of money or a grand gesture. It can be quite simple.

Whatever you choose to give including a sympathy card or handwritten message is a good idea. Writing out a comforting message may come easier to you than speaking it. Your loved one can open your note whenever they’re ready and read it as often as they want. And they’ll have a continuing reminder of your support.

Keep your loved one in mind when deciding on a gift. It’s not about getting them a gift or doing an act of service for them because it makes you feel good. Think about their feelings and their likes and dislikes. It's your thoughtfulness that really matters to them during this difficult time.   

1. Make a Donation

There are countless organizations to donate to. Make sure the organization you choose is significant to the decedent in some way. Often a death announcement will list a charity where donations can be made. If gifting money isn’t for you, volunteering is a great way to honor the decedent.

2. Buy a Seat

Many landmarks have the option to purchase plaques for their seats. If the decedent had a favorite local park or sports team, look into how much it would be to have a seat named in their honor. 

If the cost is too high for you, consider purchasing it as a group gift. If you aren’t able to fund a group gift many places also have more affordable brick inscription options.   

3. Create an Art Piece

Does the decedent have a favorite vacation spot? Landmark in town? Perhaps your loved one has a favorite photo of them with the deceased. If you’re artistic, consider creating a memento for the bereaved. 

If you’re not artistic, there are plenty of customizable art pieces out there. Paintings, pottery, sculptures, mixed media, and many other options exist. Try to capture a moment significant to both the decedent and your loved one. 

4. Help Them Pick Out a Pet

Does your loved one have a heart for animals, but never got around to getting a pet? Offer to take them for a visit to an animal shelter. Having an animal companion has massive benefits for both mental and physical health.

Depending on circumstances they may qualify for an emotional support animal. These companions come with unique benefits. Be there to support them through the decision-making process. And make sure you stick around to help their new pet feel welcome.  

5. Make a Photo Album

Create a printed photo album out of pictures of the decedent and your loved one. A printed book will feel special and can serve as a keepsake for the person for many years.

You can get one professionally printed in a variety of sizes for relatively cheap. Or you can print photos out and create one yourself. 

6. Create Custom Clothing

Was the decedent a great cook? A sports enthusiast? An all-around character? Create custom T-shirts based on something unique about the decedent. It can be a fun, lighthearted way to honor their memory. You may have seen items like this before.

People print “In Memory Of” followed by a name, birth and death date on a shirt. You don’t have to follow that design. It can be a fun design relevant to the decedent.

7. Make a Mixtape

Did the decedent have unique music tastes? Was there a particular album your loved one would listen to with the decedent? If possible, track down this album on record for a unique gift.

If your loved one doesn’t have a record player, you can always frame it as a cool art piece. You can also put together a digitized playlist for your loved one. 

8. Curate a Book Collection

You don’t have to pull together a bunch of books about dealing with grief. Instead, put together a few of your favorite books to give to your loved one. Put together a variety, but try to keep the books' tone light — nothing too scary or sad.  

9. Create a Piece of Jewelry

Custom jewelry has endless possibilities. There are plenty of ways to create a custom piece of jewelry for your loved one beyond simple engraving.

You can incorporate the decedent’s initials, birthstone, and more, in the style and taste of your loved one. 

10. Recycle Something

Did the decedent wear a certain jacket or ball cap every day? Have a favorite chair? Consider getting an item of the decedent refurbished so that your loved one can keep using it. Be creative, but don’t be destructive or change the nature of the item.

If you’re afraid of taking an item of the decedent, do some digging on the internet. You could find a new version of the item so the bereaved can have a replacement. If you can’t find a replacement, many shops offer customization and could create a replica for you.  

11. Do a Custom Dessert

Sending your loved one a dessert is a great way to comfort them. Plenty of ice cream shops and bakeries offer custom orders, and some even deliver!

You can also honor the decedent in some way with edible printing or featuring a favorite flavor. If you love baking save money and make something yourself. 

12. Give Them a Spa Day

You don’t have to spend a ton of money to send your loved one to an exclusive salon or spa.  You can pick up a few items at your store of choice.

Put it all together in a basket and make it look nice. Try to incorporate scents your loved one will like or products you recommend. A bit of self-care can work wonders. 

13. Get Them Tickets to a Game

Going to a game to cheer for their favorite team is a great way to remind them to do things they enjoy. Maybe the decedent used to go with your loved one or shared in the fandom.

Make sure you offer to tag along or buy a few tickets for your loved one to invite others, or bring their children.

14. Have an at Home Movie Night

Does your loved one have a few favorite movies they used to watch with the decedent? Find a way to access these, such as streaming, or on DVD if they’re older.

Grab plenty of snacks and find a good spot in either of your homes and set up a private theater. It’ll be a fun way to be nostalgic and provide a welcome distraction. 

15. Or, Take Them to a Movie

Dedicate an afternoon to take your loved one to a movie they want to see. It’s an easy way to provide companionship without forcing conversation. The bereaved won’t feel obligated to talk if they’re not ready.

16. Plan Meals for Them

If your loved one’s happy place is the kitchen, get them a meal subscription. Many meal kits ship fresh ingredients right to subscribers’ doors.

And they have simple recipes. Trying new recipes can be a welcome distraction from grief. 

17. Have a Cookout

If your loved one lost someone who loved barbecuing on weekends, throw a cookout in their honor. Your loved one will appreciate the respect of the tradition, even if it won’t quite be the same. Keep the event small and intimate and prepare plenty of food.  

18. Give Them a Journal

If your loved one enjoys writing things down consider a journal or bullet journal. You can easily customize them with your loved one’s initials.

Some even have prompts or questions that can guide more effective journaling. It will give your loved one another outlet and way to process their feelings. 

19. Go for a Hot Air Balloon Ride (Or Some Other Bucket List Adventure)

This is an unconventional gift idea, but in the event the decedent had a bucket list, perhaps this was on it. Going for a hot air balloon ride is a special way to honor the deceased, and create a new memory with your loved one.

If hot air balloons were not a bucket list item for the deceased figure out what was. You never know where this gift could lead!

20. Make a Custom Candle

There are plenty of well-known candle companies that offer personalization on their candles. Some shops allow you to go one step further and create a custom scent for your loved one. Candles are a small way to make anyone’s home warmer and more inviting.

21. Book a Housekeeper

Hiring someone to help your loved one clean is a useful gift, but you should make sure they’re okay with it. While many people wish someone else would do the chores they are reluctant to hire help.

Be sure to give them a sympathy card with proper condolences as well. If they seem unwilling to accept professional cleaning help offer to help them yourself. 

22. Plant a Flowering Bush or Tree

Depending on who the decedent is, there’s likely a plant out there that captures their spirit. Planting something to tend to is a great way to beautify the home and honor a loved one.

Good examples are rose bushes, birds of paradise, and even a tree of your choice. 

23. Something Else for the Garden

Maybe the deceased loved bird watching or gardening? You could order a custom bird feeder for the yard. Consider having it made with an inscription to honor the deceased.

Or buy new gardening tools. That way your loved one can continue working on the garden. Both will provide a welcome distraction from grief. 

24. A Message Jar

You can easily create this at home with a simple jar and craft paper. Your messages can be almost anything. Consider including: jokes, uplifting messages, scriptures, or even small drawings. Your loved one can open the jar and read your messages whenever they need to.

25. Help Them Send Off Paper Lanterns

Sending off paper lanterns is a beautiful way to celebrate someone’s life. You can buy them in bulk online. You could gather a large group and send them off altogether.

Make sure you find a nice open space and try to do it on a clear evening. This is a lovely way to celebrate the life of the deceased.    

Keep It in the Right Spirit 

Whatever gift or act of service you choose for your loved one, keep in mind the nature of their loss and who it is they lost. Think about how they’re hurting and what it is they feel like they’re missing out on. You aren’t trying to replace who they lost, but help them realize that others care about them.

If you’re still not sure what present to select, check out our posts on how to pick a sympathy gift for someone who lost their mother and someone who lost a husband.