16 Special Sympathy Gift Ideas That Aren't Flowers

It's tough to know how to comfort someone grieving the death of a loved one. Concerns about what to say, when to offer space, and when to provide company are widespread. Also, the mourning person may not know what they need right now nor want to ask for support.

If you're hesitant about reaching out to the bereaved, sympathy gifts are a wonderful way to express your love, care, and support. It's an excellent way to let someone know you're there for them when they need it without invading their personal space.

When Is It Appropriate to Send a Sympathy Gift?

Arrange a sympathy card or gift as soon as you learn of the passing. At the very least, within a couple of weeks, the family should know that you haven't forgotten about them.

Let's say that you were incredibly close to the dead or their family. In that case, you might present a memorial bench or tree later since that takes more forethought. A personal gift might be given during memorial services (though ash dispersal rituals can be held months or even years after the death).

Gift Ideas to Send to a Funeral Home

Sending flowers at a funeral is a custom and feels appropriate when someone dies. Yet, at the funeral home, families often get an overwhelming number of floral arrangements.

So, here's our own selection of alternative gift ideas to show your sympathy.

Photo Albums

Loss and grief may be dealt with in several ways, and there is no single right approach to it. One's death will naturally bring up pleasant memories of your time together. Keeping a photo album is a great way to preserve the good times and the little things that make life worth living.

It doesn't have to include simply photographs of the dead. In fact, we urge you to include old family pets or running jokes that the bereaved may all appreciate. It's essential to feature both lighthearted and sentimental moments.

It's challenging to capture their whole life in a few pages, no matter how long they are. However, these images will evoke memories, laughter, and affection. Each page may bridge the gap between time and distance, making this the ideal gift to commemorate a life that has marked its end.

Write a Letter

In 2002, Cheryl Strayed penned an award-winning essay about her deceased mother titled "The Love of My Life." Though it consisted of some controversial elements, Cheryl grasped the raw truth behind grief from a daughter's perspective.

Harvard Health reported that writing about our deepest thoughts might help us deal with acute sadness. Writing down your feelings and emotions relieves the burden of keeping them in.

Since you're not being constrained by your thoughts, you would be allowed to express yourself without fear of criticism and reflect on your loved one's death in a way that works for you. You could also read this letter during the funeral as part of the eulogy or include it within an obituary.

Name a Star

The Cervantes star in the constellation Ara is named after Miguel de Cervantes, the renowned Spanish author of Don Quixote. It's orbited by exoplanets named after the novel's characters known as Rocinante, Quijote, Sancho, and Dulcinea.

Star Registry, for example, provides a one-of-a-kind means to chart your star. They make it simple for your relatives and friends to locate the named star using Google's star map. You may discover an actual picture of your star by typing in its location or name.

Meanwhile, the International Star Registry (ISR) is a long-standing organization that started identifying stars in 1979. After purchasing them, the ISR preserves your star's location and names in "Your Place in the Cosmos" book. The book isn't only listed in the Library of Congress Catalog, but it's also kept in a Swiss vault. 

Note: The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the only legitimate organization authorized to name a star. The indicated services above are for commercial purposes alone. Though naming a star after the deceased is still a meaningful sympathy gift, particularly if they liked astronomy while they were alive.

Create a Personalized Guest Book

A customized guest book is perfect for introducing themes or "favorites" into this memorial or funeral event section. Personalization may include making a guest book with the deceased's favorite flower, color, or other treasured objects.

Most hobby shops provide sheets of stationery in a rainbow of colors and a wide choice of floral prints and other related graphics. Similarly, you could make a scrapbook and use the stationery to create a personalized guest book.

We recommend incorporating an interactive table that allows visitors to engage with elements other than the guest book. Consider displaying photos with question prompts like "Do you recall when..." so visitors can explore and speak amongst themselves as they wait to sign the guest book.

When used correctly, it can permit attendees to offer advice, relive memories, and show the departed's impact on their life. Guest books provide attendees the last chance to pay their respects to a loved one or friend in a highly personal manner.

Offer Your Time

It lifts a significant burden off the shoulders of the bereaved if you can offer your time to lend them your ear. This can lessen the emotional toll on those who are most affected.

The family might not contact you if you are vague in your offer to help. A person who has lost a loved one will find it challenging to keep up with ordinary tasks like gardening, cleaning, cooking, and making funeral planning calls.

You could even check whether they are eligible for some government benefits if they're in a position that requires additional financial assistance.

Buy a Brick (At a Local Park or Museum)

Since 1941, the 40,000-square-foot Museum of the Marine has housed a permanent tribute to soldiers who served in the Carolinas. It's a lasting memorial to those who fought for us and the communities who have stood by them.

They're often a single brick for one name ($200) and a double brick for two names ($400). Veterans may have an American flag placed on their double brick for free.

Generally, memorial orders are accepted all year via mail or online. However, installations occur in the spring and autumn, so orders must be submitted between March 1 and August 1.

The current weather determines their actual installation date since bricks can only be arranged in pairs due to the pavement patterns.

Personal Gift Ideas for Someone Who Lost a Loved One

Personalized sympathy gifts might seem a small gesture, but they say a lot about reaching out to a grieving friend. Examples of these types of presents include the following.

Memorial or Sympathy Jewelry

You can opt to buy a piece of jewelry that reminds you of the departed, much as the Victorians did. Consider a locket with a small image of the dead inside or etch their initials on a heart-shaped necklace.

You might be interested in making a diamond ring out of your loved ones' cremains, albeit this is a more costly choice. You simply need to send in about half of their cremains for a memorial that will last eternally.

Investing in memorial jewelry won't remove the pain. Still, it will provide you with a method to memorialize your loved one. It's a concrete way to remember someone who has passed away.

Food (Make a Homemade Meal or Bring a Catered Dinner)

The USDA Dietary Guidelines for 2020-2025 emphasize the necessity of having a well-balanced diet, both in the short term and throughout one's life. Doing so will boost your energy, lower the chance of acquiring certain illnesses, encourage better sleep, and boost your performance in the workplace.

Dr. Gail Gross, PhD, EdD, MEd, shared that knowing a few fundamental meals might assist with the mourning process. Berries, for example, including blueberries, may aid with memory, while stress can be reduced by eating foods high in vitamin B, such as spinach and broccoli.

If you often get praise for your cooking and take great care while preparing meals, you can choose to prepare a meal on your own. Assuming that no one is allergic to dairy or gluten, try creating a lasagna or another baked pasta for the bereaved.

Remember that the meat in the lasagna is high in iron, which promotes a better immune system and increases your strength or stamina. Additionally, these foods are so warm and pleasant that even the pickiest diners can't help but appreciate them.

Shortly after her friend Ryan White died of AIDS, Indiana University alumna Jill Stewart founded the Indiana University Dance Marathon (IUDM) in 1991. The IUDM raised more than $3 million in 2021 through its 36-hour Dance Marathon event, bringing the total amount raised for Riley Hospital to well over $43 million.

Meanwhile, White's mother established the Ryan White Foundation in 1992. The charity sought to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, particularly among hemophiliacs and their families. The charity received contributions totaling $300,000 each year in 1997 before Ryan's mother terminated the foundation in 2000, combined its assets with AIDS Action, and became an AIDS activist.

The example above demonstrates that none are nearly as powerful as contributing to charity in memory of a loved one since you'll be making a difference.

When making a similar donation, ensure that the family's contact information is correct so the organization can keep them updated. Depending on the charity, a certificate or other memento may be given to the deceased's family.

The transaction will most likely be accompanied by a receipt, so don't forget to keep it with you as it's possible that the contribution may be tax-deductible.

Pro Tip: When searching for a possible recipient, it's advisable to look into the Charity Navigator or BBB Wise Giving Alliance. These websites ensure that donors can contribute confidently, knowing that the organizations are transparent and accountable.

It's a great gift to see how their memory lives on via the organization's goodwill, which shows that hope may be found amid grief.

Give Them a Potted Plant

A potted plant has advantages that extend well beyond the first joy it provides. Caring for it may be therapeutic for someone who is grieving since it may help relieve tension and alleviate anxiety.

In particular, we recommend the following plant options as a way to honor the deceased's memory:

Plant Them a Tree

No matter how conventional the burial may be, you may want to consider honoring the deceased by planting a tree. You might choose a place close to their heart when they were alive and somewhere that also needs environmental support.

For instance, you can pick a tree in Clark County, Nevada, but you must choose from a list of plant species suitable for that climate. Participants choose the tree's general placement. For $500, the county will plant the tree and install an engraved plaque, while an additional $100 can get you a plate that will replace an existing tree.

Consider the mature tree's height and width when selecting a site. Since the sapling is tiny, many skip this phase. However, large tree roots may harm underground objects, and incorrect tree planting could jeopardize buildings or underground plumbing systems. 

Don't forget the branches! A tree's crown might also cause complications since it could obstruct views and interfere with cables. If they get too large, you would have no choice but to get them removed.

If you're unsure about the details of the tree you've picked, visit a nearby gardening specialty shop or tree nursery. They should be able to assist you in selecting a tree that will be suitable for the area you have in mind.

Lawn Care Service

Sometimes, the individual who died was the one who mowed the grass or took care of other exterior chores. Even if this isn't the case, taking care of such things might add to family tension when people are grieving. A lawn care service gift voucher is a lovely and practical offering. Even better, offer to call and book it for them!

Before hiring a lawn care service provider, inquire about what services they offer, especially when signing a contract. You don't want to be calling another lawn service later in the season because your lawn man won't trim the hedges.

Sometimes, you can tap into the company's network of service professionals. These people can handle dog waste removal or tree work that isn't generally covered in the initial service packages.

Pro Tip: Prepaying for the complete lawn-care package before the season begins is one method to save money. A lawn service provider may offer discounted pricing to every lawn owner in a specific area, calculating that the increased revenue would balance the cheaper group cost.

“Get Well” Sympathy Gift Ideas

Most individuals can recover from loss on their own with social support and good habits. Still, there's no harm in sending something nice that you hope would lift a mourning person's spirits.

Gift Them Something Comfy

A child who has lost a loved one, particularly a parent, may become emotional in the weeks and months after their death. Some may even go through stages of thinking that it was their fault or they could have prevented it from happening.

Since therapists and doctors have used weighted teddy bears for years to help patients deal with loss and grief, sending one as a gift can be a good call.

A toddler's present may be almost any plush animal since they haven't formed special interests. But if the child is older, ask their parents if they actually like a particular animal. They may like fantastical things like unicorns or wild animals like lions. Remember that most older kids have formed interests, so it doesn't hurt to ask around.

Always check the toy's safety, particularly if the child is around 1-3 years old, as toys with tiny pieces or sharp edges aren't suitable for them. For instance, a stuffed animal's eyes and nose shouldn't easily come off because they can cause choking and a sudden visit to the ER.

Give Them Your Time

Giving your time is frequently the most precious present you can provide. The responsibilities of daily life may seem overwhelming to a mourning individual. Volunteering your time to assist them with whatever they need might be a lifesaver.

Talk it over with the bereaved and discuss how frequently you two will go out. Whether it's a daily five-minute phone call, a monthly beach getaway, or a weekly brunch date, giving them your time will be one of the things that'll take their mind off of their loss.

Also, if they have children, you could offer to pick them up from school a couple of evenings each week. Even basic chores, such as assisting with cleaning the house or washing the dishes can relieve their stress.

When extending a hand, it's critical not to overstep. If you believe the scenario is appropriate, ask if it's okay for you to take on a specific task. And don't forget that before making an offer, you'd have to be sure that it's something you can deliver.

Offer Money If Needed

Most of the time, we don't know about other people's financial problems until they open up about them with us. However, there are a few instances when it's plainly proper to contribute money,

  1. The deceased have children. A surviving spouse may have to feed and care for children on half of their typical income. They must also pay for funeral expenditures and acquire proper funeral attire for the children, so extra cash from you can go a long way.
  2. The deceased died of homicide or suicide. People assume that insurance companies won't pay for suicide deaths, and that's usually the case. As most insurers will dismiss claims under less than a two-year-old policy, families of homicide victims would face delays in receiving funds from their insurance companies.
  3. The deceased was the primary income earner. It takes time to acquire the necessary documentation for a life insurance claim. And even if the family has enough life insurance, the cash might not be available for weeks or months.

Remember that the amount you give depends on the family's present condition. If you know that they're in a poor financial situation due to the loss, consider contributing more than $80, which is about the cost of flowers. This also holds true if the dead was a close friend.

A gift card may be the most convenient option for those who can't make it in person. It's best to purchase digital gift cards from trustworthy internet retailers like Amazon.

Another suggestion is to ensure that your friend has enough time to heal. Consider giving part of your vacation time to them if they are a colleague. You may check into the procedure of transferring your paid leave and determine whether your company has this option in place.

Under the paid time off (PTO) donation policy, employees can give leftover vacation days to coworkers who need them but don't have any available days left.

Many workers can't use their time off, and a PTO donation policy lets them put their days to good use rather than feeling bad for wasting them. It also allows employees to give back to their coworkers in a meaningful manner.

In this way, the recipient can receive their full salary even if they can't work full-time for an extended period.

What Makes the Perfect Sympathy Gift?

It might be difficult to think of the appropriate present for a grieving friend or family member. Begin by considering their preferences and religious beliefs. Bringing a pork dish to a Jewish acquaintance, for example, is disrespectful rather than sympathetic.

You may choose a present that is evocative of something in your gift recipient's past: an interest, a memory, a pastime, or a statement spoken in a discussion. There are significant events in everyone's lives, and it's impressive when the gift corresponds to that occasion.

While it involves a lot of thought, it does not have to be perfect. Perfection isn't required, particularly under difficult situations. The most important presents, regardless of size or cost, show the receiver that they are acknowledged, loved, and valued.