Current circumstances make losing a loved one even more complicated and isolating than usual. Those dealing with loss right now have the added burdens of not being able to say a proper goodbye at the hospital or to honor the deceased at an in-person memorial. We also can’t support those most directly affected by the loss in ways we might want to — with a hug or a visit. So what should we do or give to help them cope?
First: Don’t ask them what they need. “They don’t know what they need,” says David Kessler, grief specialist and author of “Finding Meaning.” “If you want to know what they need, you have to do one thing. You have to listen.” To find out what they need, Kessler suggests you acknowledge that what they’re going through is heartbreaking and ask them what their day-to-day challenges are.
Of course, a phone call or thoughtful note is enough, but if you’re feeling you want to do a little bit more, try one of these comforting gifts that we’ve gathered for the grieving people you know.
Forget-Me-Nots Greetings Card ($3.50; etsy.com)
A bright mug full of forget-me-nots colors the front, while the inside is left blank. Fill it with your own words or a favorite quote to show sympathy for their pain.
Love Leaves a Memory Card ($4; etsy.com)
Colorful yet muted flowers and a saying taken from an Irish tombstone make this card a kind and tender sentiment.
Peaceful Waves Greeting Card ($6.95; papersource.com)
This card has pretty blue waves and a thoughtful, simple design that shows you understand how deep and indescribable their feelings are right now.
Sympathy gift baskets and food
Every Plate (starting at $4.99 per serving; everyplate.com)
Kessler recommends dropping off groceries or getting your grieving friends a meal subscription service. “Many people are dealing with feeding their families, and someone in their family has died. Just the thought of a box that shows up with a few meals in it is such a lovely gift right now.” Every Plate is known for its easy six-steps-or-less preparations and is one of our favorite meal delivery services.
Tea + Sympathy Made by Mouth ($70.50; mouth.com)
Warm them up from the inside out with this gift set from Mouth. It comes with tea cookies, honey and two different kinds of tea to suit their mood.
Murray’s Cheese Greatest Hits ($99; murrayscheese.com)
Murray’s Cheese has been a New York City institution since 1942. Its Greatest Hits collection is a thoughtful way to show a cheese-lover you care. Gruyere, brie, cheddar and manchego are the foundation of this spread that comes complete with olive oil crackers, cherry preserves and roasted almonds.
Sympathy Ice Cream Assortment ($69.99; harryanddavid.com)
Sometimes a pint of ice cream is just what the doctor ordered. Well, not literally, but this thoughtful set of four sympathy pints of ice cream is a sweet idea. Each pint has a message of condolence on it like “Tub of Hugs” and “Pint of Compassion.”
Sympathy Bakery Gift ($49.99; wolfermans.com)
Waffles, muffins, cakes, scones, rolls and more in this bakery basket will give them something to pick at while they process everything that they’re feeling. Select the six baked goods that they’ll like best from a list of 44.
Relieve tension and stress
Papillon Back Massager ($45.99; amazon.com)
This is one of our editors’ favorites: It’s easy to move around from the couch to the bed to the car and can help massage away and relieve any tension in the neck, head and shoulders that they may be dealing with during this stressful time.
HH Lavender & Bergamot Luxury Candle ($36; amazon.com)
Aromatherapists say that lavender has calming properties (although that hasn’t been proven by science just yet). Regardless, this luxurious lavender and bergamot scented candle comes in a sophisticated box and will provide up to 80 hours of soft candlelight.
Gravity Blanket ($189; gravityblankets.com)
Grieving can sometimes cause insomnia, and if you know they’re having trouble sleeping, a weighted blanket could be the hug-like help that they need. For more ideas on how to help them rest, take a look at our guide to getting better sleep.
Ugg Oh Yeah Slippers ($100; ugg.com)
Another way to send a hug is via a pair of these ultra-plush slippers from the comfort footwear megabrand Ugg. They even have a rubber sole that makes them fine for running errands.
Book of the Month (starting at $49.99 for three months; bookofthemonth.com)
A membership to Book of the Month — an institution since 1926 — might be just what they need to get out of their heads for a little while. They’ll receive five carefully vetted options via email each month and choose one to be delivered to their home.
Sympathy flowers and plants
Parlor Palm ($65; bloomscape.com)
This pretty parlor palm doesn’t require much light or care and is pet-friendly, so it’s great for just about any type of household. At 15 to 22 inches tall, it arrives in a pot in your choice of four colors — stone, clay, indigo or charcoal.
The Buttercream (starting at $65; urbanstems.com)
Kessler advises steering clear of sending traditional funerary arrangements. In lieu of a large display, we suggest you opt for this simple white bouquet of vanilla roses, snapdragons and delicate lisianthus. You can add on a vase and coffee for additional fees. (Check out our roundup of the best places to order flowers online for more ideas.)
Live Succulent Gift Box (starting at $37.99; etsy.com)
We like this succulent gift box as another alternative to a traditional arrangement, because succulents are famously easy to care for. This gift box comes with a note “with heartfelt sympathy” and a simple candle — choose from four scents — in a pretty box.
Seeds of Life Memory Tree ($73; proflowers.com)
If you know they have a yard or garden — and a little bit of a green thumb — this memorial tree kit is a wonderful way to honor a lost loved one. It comes with preconditioned seeds to ensure germination, growing directions, decorative packaging and a handwritten gift card for a personal touch.
Personalized Memorial Forget-Me-Not Seed Packets (starting at $20 for 10; etsy.com)
Honor the lost loved one with a set of forget-me-not seed packets personalized with their name, date of birth and date of passing. There are enough seeds to plant a whole flower box worth, or order up to 300 packets to send to additional family and friends individually and spread the memorial garden far and wide.
Sympathy jewelry and memorials
Memorial Angel Wing Necklace (starting at $33.95; etsy.com)
Help them keep their lost loved one close to their hearts with this delicate angel wing pendant that comes with a separate initial disc of your choice. Select from three chain lengths and a rose gold or silver finish.
Memories Bloomed Sympathy Garden Stone ($35.99; personalcreations.com)
This 11-inch cast-resin garden stone is made to last and is personalized with a name (up to 20 characters) and the years of their birth and passing.
Walnut Block & 10 Photo Prints ($30; artifactuprising.com)
If you are close enough to the family to have meaningful photos of the person who passed, choosing a custom set of 10 5-by-5-inch photos to fill this simple slotted walnut block is a lovely way to remember them.
Custom Painting from a Photo (starting at $199; paintyourlife.com)
Paint Your Life takes the photo of your choice and recreates it in pencil, charcoal, oil paint, pastel, acrylic or watercolor; you decide on the type and size of painting you’d like, too. You can also choose the artist from the database and give any special instructions.
Personalized Photo Keyring in Leather Case ($36.84; etsy.com)
Use a photo from social media and create this keyring as a memorial gift. Your photo is printed directly onto the stainless steel insert. Choose from six leather options and customize the exterior with up to six characters.
Sympathy books and inspiration
’Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief’ by David Kessler ($23.99; barnesandnoble.com)
An expert on grief and founder of grief.com, David Kessler addresses grief in a new way in his sixth book on the subject by introducing the concept of finding meaning. Kessler also hosts a free grief support group that has grown to more than 15,000 people since its launch just a few weeks ago.
Those We Love Don’t Go Away, They Walk Beside Us Every Day (starting at $32.99; etsy.com)
The most popular page on grief.com, according to Kessler, is the page about the worst things to say to someone who is grieving. This heart-shaped porcelain dish comes with a comforting inscription already thought out for you. You can also choose to customize it with a name or year for an additional fee.
’Grief Day by Day: Simple Practices and Daily Guidance for Living with Loss’ by Jan Warner ($11.99; amazon.com)
Help your friend or loved one sort through all of the feelings that are swirling through them each day as they grieve. This workbook provides prompts, themes and reflections on grieving in a way that lets them flip through and choose a page or section that is relevant to that day.
So Sorry For Your Loss Personalized Candle Gift (starting at $24; etsy.com)
This small but meaningful gift lets you decide how personal you want to get. Choose from white or kraft paper wrap around either a 9-ounce or a 12-ounce candle in one of 21 scents. Customize the back with text — a thoughtful poem or a respectful note of condolence — or let the message on the front, “So sorry for your loss,” simply speak for you.
’The Invisible String’ by Patrice Karst ($5.79; amazon.com)
Unravel some of the complexities of grief for young children with this bestselling book. It was written to help grieving children see the permanent connection that remains with a loved one, even after they pass away, as an invisible string.
One Day at a Time Soothing Stone ($8.99; amazon.com)
Let them know that you understand they must be going through a lot of pain right now with this sympathetic stainless steel “stone.” They can keep it in their pocket and rub it as a reminder that this difficult situation needs to be dealt with one day at a time.
Stained Glass Angel Suncatcher ($40.87; etsy.com)
Send comfort in the form of an angel made to catch the sun’s light and color the room with either blue or pink glass and gleaming copper foil that will patina with time.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.