When I lost my sister in May 2020, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I was devastated, angry, and exhausted. The weeks following felt like a fog; my brain could barely process or handle the simplest tasks.
Some gestures and gifts from friends and family really comforted me at a time when I felt a deep sense of loneliness. I also encountered words and actions left me feeling more isolated and unsupported. In sharing this post, my hope is that you'll be better equipped to a light in someone else's darkest days.
Here are 5 sympathy gift ideas for someone grieving a loss.
1. Send a handwritten note of support
I will always suggest including a handwritten note with any gift (or as the gift itself). There’s just something special about seeing your handwriting and knowing you took the time to write words of encouragement and support.
There is no perfect thing to write in a sympathy card, but there are a few things that will make it feel like you genuinely care.
The best sympathy card I received after my sister died was from a friend who had never met my sister but took the time to look at her social media posts, read her obituary, and listen to her music (she was a DJ). The words this friend wrote just felt like she really took the time to understand my loss. She mentioned things that stuck out to her about my sister (her smile, her talent, etc.). It was heartfelt, genuine, and unexpected—to realize that someone might get to know my sister even after she was gone. What a gift.
My advice is to try to learn something personal about the person who died so you can really feel the magnitude of the loss and then write about it. Or if you also knew the deceased, share some of your favorite memories.
It can also be as simple as letting the recipient know that this situation ABSOLUTELY SUCKS but you care.
Do not write “everything happens for a reason,” “they’re in a better place, “ or “stay strong.” These types of sentiments are simply not comforting and can sometimes do more harm than good.
2. Buy a meal or do some chores
It’s nice when people say, “If you need anything, let me know.” But what’s even better is when someone just does something for you without being asked.
After a loss, your brain is foggy, you feel lethargic, and you need to do 10,000 things (funeral arrangements, cancel bills, clear out a living space, grieve...).
After my sister died, one of my friends brought me groceries and walked my dog, another friend stayed at my apartment while I flew out of town for the funeral, and another took me to and from the airport. This eased what would have been an additional burden of figuring things out, but they did these things without me even asking.
If you have the time or resources, order a meal to be delivered, mow the lawn, walk the dog, pay for a house cleaner to come. You’ll be giving the griever the gift of one less thing to worry about and trust me when I say, that’s priceless.
3. Send thoughtful word art
Another thoughtful gift idea is to send word art to comfort the recipient. The piece below was made for a customer’s friend who lost her sister last year. The last known photo of her sister showed her smiling next to a tall red flower, and a few months after she died, a tall red flower spontaneously grew in their front yard—a meaningful sign that she was still nearby.
My artist friend Patricia Shaw painted a red gladiolus flower (a symbol of love and remembrance) and we paired it with the WandaVision quote, “But what is grief, if not love persevering.” You can purchase the card or print in my shop.
I recently received a message from a customer who bought this print that said, “We had a miscarriage at 12 weeks, and this print has done more to help heal my heart than any other combination of words. I just wanted you to know that, for me, this print has been wildly helpful, and I hold it close to my heart."
One of the most heartbreaking and bittersweet orders I've ever received was from a family friend of a young father who died from COVID-19. His wife found a message on his phone with his last words. The family friend asked me to make these custom prints so that his wife and children will always have his words nearby.
Custom name prints are also really thoughtful. You tell me a little bit about the person that died (or send me their obituary), and I can make a print with their name, customized definitions, and any dates you want to include.
Shop all grief and loss gifts from Alison Rose Vintage.
4. Buy a comforting book
There are many books on grief, some of them helpful, some of them not so helpful. If you’ve read one that you really like, I definitely suggest sending it to friends and family when they experience a loss.
One of my go-to grief books is Welcome to the Grief Club by Janine Kwoh.
I've followed Janine’s stationery shop, Kwohtations, for many years and have bought and sent so many of her fun and inclusive cards.
Welcome to the Grief Club feels super relatable because Janine crowdsourced many of the ideas and sentiments and poured her own grief from losing a partner into it.
She doesn't hold back in reminding us that grief is a lot more nuanced than the “5 stages of grief” we’ve all heard about. The way we process grief is whatever we say it is and can certainly last a lifetime. We don't just get over the loss of a loved one and our relationships and paths in life change because of our losses and grief.
Welcome to the Grief Club is illustrated, so it’s not like this thick, heavy book that you have to wade through while your brain is in a fog. It’s easily digestible. And just look at this adorable avatar of me that you’ll find in the book.
5. Gift a reminder of their loved one
Last but not least, gift something that will remind the recipient of their loved one. Two of my friends bought me art pieces, one an original drawing of my sister by one of my favorite artists and another an illustration of me and my sister together. Another friend sent me a beautifully framed collage of photos. These pieces hang in my home to give me a daily reminder that my sister is always with me.
Also, a lot of people love the symbolism of a cardinal (spiritual messenger, reminder that our loved ones are near). Buy a framed cardinal print, card, or antique book from my shop so they always have a cardinal nearby.
I know it’s never easy to find the right thing to say or do for someone in the thick of grief, but our words and support do make a difference, I promise.
If you or someone you know is really struggling with their grief, please seek or help them seek counseling (I’m so glad I already had a therapist when my sister died). And for extra support, please share my other blog post, 5 ways to connect to a deceased loved one.
Social media: @alisonrosevintage