How to Give The Perfect Sympathy Gift


Here For You’s speciality lies in curating gifts for life’s toughest transitions, but if you’re more of a DIY person, or live locally to the friend or family member you’d like to support, here’s some advice on putting together your own sympathy gift.

Now, it’s very tempting to send a special gift when someone is going through a hard time. Perhaps memorial jewelery, an angel statue or the traditional flower arrangement. These are examples of what you’re likely to find on most most ‘Top 20 Sympathy Gifts’ lists. While these gifts seem great superficially, they usually miss the mark.

A list of typical sympathy gifts that are crossed out while 'something else entirely' is circled.

You don’t know if the recipient will want to wear something in memory of the person they lost, you can’t be certain that they believe in angels (or perhaps they’re uninterested in displaying such an item), and while flowers are beautiful, you can be certain they will die within a week (which may be a fitting metaphor for what they’re dealing with in real life). 

Memorial gifts, generally, are best when the affected individual chooses them personally. They are so specific to someone’s individual tastes and beliefs, it can be really hard to pick one that will be used or appreciated. Bird feeders would be perfect for someone who connects birds to their loved one, but most people don’t. 

Keepsake gifts can also be a double-edged sword. When someone gets a gift they don’t want, they also experience guilt or frustration for the wasted effort and money spent on something that was unnecessary.

When life is normal, most adults can see a gift for what it is — a thoughtful effort by the gift giver to let the recipient know that they’re not forgotten. Even on those occasions when we don’t particularly like what we’re given, we can appreciate the thought and care. When we are grieving, or life is incredibly hard, it can be hard (or impossible) to see the intention behind the gift.

There probably is no other time in your adult life that you need help than when you are bereaved, sick or injured. Which makes this the perfect time to gift a truly useful gifts. 

So, what does types of gifts are useful in times of criss?

Practical Gifts

While not traditional, gifts that make life easier are number one.

Consider household supplies that can be put in the closet and come out when necessary — toilet paper, hand soap, laundry or dishwasher detergent (if you know their homes have those machines), tissues, toothpaste/toothbrushes, food storage options (e.g., freezer bags, aluminum foil, plastic wrap), cleaning spray and trash bags are all good options. 

A close up of someone's right arm carrying two rolls of toilet paper

When brainstorming what to get, think of the types of products that when you’re out it can really put you in a jam (e.g., you could make do without hand lotion for a few days, but if you are out of toilet paper you’d have to make a run to the store). The goal is to keep the family from having to leave their home for essentials. Bonus points are that all of these items are shelf-stable, and even if they’re not immediately necessary, they will certainly be helpful in the future.


Food gifts are almost always a good idea with one important caveat; make sure that it can be frozen or stored easily for future use. Gifting food that must be eaten ASAP is usually a hinderance (and the number one reason why Edible Arrangement are not a good sympathy gift), reason being that most food comes in the first couple of weeks and family’s may find themselves with more than they can eat. When gifting food, present in a way that can be stored easily (e.g., in a baking tray, wrapped for the freezer). Be sure not to include any dishes that need to be returned.

Gift certificates to restaurants or meal delivery services also work well. Instacart gift certificates can also be incredibly useful. 


You may find yourself itching to give a keepsake, but we encourage you to steer clear! But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find something that’s both useful and gift-like.

The key here is to go for something consumable. Bath or shower products, lotions and skin care, these are ways to fulfill our deep seated urge to give something nice that the recipient may not buy for themselves, but it’s also something that can be useful. 

Bath bomb from Among The Flowers in Pacerville, CA

People often react differently to gifts given when tragedy occurs. Cozy blankets tend to also be up there on the latest sympathy gift lists. We attach ourselves to objects in a different way during tragedies (there’s a sweatshirt that my sister and I used to fight over and she gave it back to me soon before she died. Nearly six years later, I can’t bear to wear it). 

If a gift is received at a time of great heartache, the receiver may always associate the gift with their incredibly difficult experience. Eventually they may be able to use it, but it could be many years down the line. The benefit of a consumable is that once the product is done they can recycle or throw away the container and not have the object lingering around.  


The gift of time can also be incredibly helpful. Racking leaves, folding laundry, dog walking, or entertaining the kids for an afternoon are all useful. These gifts can be big or small. I recall reading that a family directly impacted by the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School had their oil take filled anonymously. If you live in the neighborhood of the bereaved, you could take out/return the trash barrels. There are many, many ways to make everyday life a little bit easier. 

Man walking a dog off leash

Keep in mind that when you’re doing chores, the goal is to do as much as possible without burdening the family (e.g., “I’d like to come mow your lawn on Tuesday. I’ll bring the mower! If that’s a bad day, just let me know if there’s another one that works better.” or “I’d love to take Wally on a hike this weekend. Just let me know the day or time that works best for you and I’ll pick him up/drop him off.”

It can feel scary to try to help someone in need. You may worry if what you’d doing is well received, and you often won’t get feedback from the individual if they do appreciate your efforts. Do your best to imagine yourself in their shoes and act accordingly. And a thoughtfully written sympathy card is always a safe bet. 

Cartoon of an individual reading a sympathy card. Platitudes are crossed off and the final message says 'This Fucking Sucks'



Here For You offers fully customizable care packages for family and friends living through life's toughest transitions. Our practical gifts range from curated household essentials to customizable sets of self-care items, all prepared with a personal touch.

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