When and what to send for a sympathy gift

Here's when and what to send for a sympathy gift to express the right sentiment

Here’s when and what to send for a sympathy gift to express the right sentiment

Offering condolences is the natural thing to do after learning that someone you care about has lost a loved one. Many people also send a card or gift with the hope of making them feel a little better. 

This thoughtful gesture was once a simple matter of sending flowers with a card. These days, many families include an “in lieu of flowers” not in the obituary and specify exactly what would be helpful to them at this time. But what if they don?t?

Figuring out when and what to send for a sympathy gift can be stressful. Your heart is in the right place no matter what, but obviously you’d like it to serve a purpose. With a goal of expressing the right level sympathy and support, consider a lasting present or one that can be shared.


The window of time for  condolence gifts is wider than many realize. Traditionally, flowers are sent for the day of the funeral to either the funeral home or family home. However, the heart continues grieving long after.

Your gift may resonate more if it arrives after everyone has gone home and the business of making arrangements is done. In fact, it?s appropriate to send a gift at any point within the first year following the death. It?s also common to send a gift on the one-year anniversary as this is often a difficult day.


Think about your relationship to the deceased or the recipient when deciding when and what to send for a sympathy gift. If you were close to the deceased but don?t know the family well, it?s traditional to send a personal gift to the spouse or closest relative. 

Here are a few gift ideas for people looking for a nice alternative to flowers.


Cake plays a big role in many family occasions ? weddings, birthdays, holidays and even deaths. Sending someone a classic, gourmet cake is sending them a few minutes of sweet pleasure they can share.


Comfort food

It?s quite common to bring food to a wake. The amount of food families receive after a loss is overwhelming. Many people bring casseroles, lasagna and other hearty dishes that freeze well. Wait a few days or weeks and your dish will be more appreciated and probably needed.

For a wake, a basket of fresh fruit or vegetables with dip will lighten the burden of feeding guests. You may also want to take their grocery list and do a shopping errand for them, or give them a gift certificate to a delivery restaurant.


If you have photos of the deceased that the family doesn?t, now is a good time to share them. Print them and put them in a photo album.

Take care

When deciding what to send for a sympathy gift, think simple. Grief occupies the time in which normal tasks like exercising, cooking and recreation used to take place. A basket of indulgent bath treats, new pajamas, a good book or tickets to a game they?ll enjoy shows you care without crowding them. 


In lieu of flowers, many families welcome donations to help offset funeral costs. Money is the last thing grieving family members want to think about it, but often the first thing they have to deal with. Contributing what you can will absolutely help in this time of need.

For the kids

Grieving children are in a hard place. Including a small gift ? a journal, stuffed doll to play with, a game ? reminds them they?re not alone.


A gift card for a cleaning or lawn care service is a way to lend a hand without being pushy or in their space. The sight of a mowed lawn or vacuumed room relieves stress in a surprising way. The gift card gives them control to use it when they’re ready.

When in doubt of when and what to send for a sympathy gift, fresh flowers or potted plants are a comfort as long as nobody?s allergic. White, pale yellow and other subtle colors send a gentle message of love.