The Best Sympathy Gifts to Distract, Remind, and Help Them!


We are sorry that you are here looking for ideas on sympathy gifts, but we commend you for wanting to do something meaningful for those you care for, especially during their difficult time. Death is one of those events we know are inevitable, but it is also one we don’t want to think about, prepare for, or go through. It is, without a doubt, a life-altering event, but one we are able to move forward from with the support of those who care for us (like YOU!).

Providing emotional support is the first step to show we care. We asked hundreds of people how they felt after receiving support from their loved ones during their difficult time, and time and time again, they expressed how grateful they were for the support they received. It made them feel “loved, secured, less alone, like it mattered, and happy to have people support them.” Besides emotional support, common sympathy gifts include flowers, baskets, home-cooked meals, and cash/gift cards. These gifts are great, and it is very likely that the person or family who has just lost a loved one will receive some or all of them from their other friends and family members. Therefore, in this article, we share with you some other meaningful ways to show you care that will brighten their day, even if for a short moment. A memorable sympathy gift is surely one that no one ever forgets…

A Touching Sympathy Note Goes a Long Way!

Writing a touching sympathy note, text, or card to go along with your gift may be difficult. Sometimes we do not know what to say or how to express our condolences. Although we are always well-intentioned, talking to those who are grieving can be tricky. In fact, worrying about saying or doing the “wrong” thing is a common concern. For some guidance on what to say, check out our blog 7 Things You Can Say to Someone Who Has Lost a Loved One. Another way to get some inspiration is through the words of others, such as quotes or examples. We shared some inspirational quotes on our blog here.

Depending on your relationship with the person or family, your proximity to them, and/or their interests and personalities, you may find one or more special ways to support them. Below, we have grouped ideas on ways to be there for your loved ones and/or to gift them a meaningful sympathy gift into three categories: distract them, remind them, and help them. You may find some ideas be more appropriate at different times through their grieving journey, so keep this post handy!

Distract Them

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.” ~ Helen Keller

For some of us, bringing up the name of our friend’s loved one who has passed or asking about the situation may make us feel uncomfortable and that’s completely normal. However, it is important to let your friend know that she/he can count on you. One way to help is to distract them from their day-to-day activities and engage into doing something fun and lighthearted with or for them. Below, we have put together a few sympathy gift activities and ideas that are sure to brighten their day.

  • Take them out in nature for a walk or hike. “Grieving people have a tendency to withdraw from others and become depressed. Exercise is known to lift depression and any activity that brings mourners together is helpful," says Mel Borins, a grief educator and associate professor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto. Even more, psychologists have found that being in nature reduces “ruminative thoughts”, which are negative thought patterns that play over and over in our heads such as dwelling on embarrassing or on negative aspects of the self. Therefore, it helps us, not only in the way we feel, but also in the way we think about situations in our lives. Nature is a great tool to help clear our minds and improve our moods.

  • Think of upcoming events, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays that you may be able to help organize and/or contribute to. One of the most touching ways I received support was when a friend helped me organize my 2-year old son’s birthday party. My friend helped me come up with the party theme, found and booked a small petting zoo company, helped order and coordinate the food, and even helped put together the party favors. It was a wonderful party that brought joy to my son, and the rest of my family and friends amidst our difficult time. These events may be too much for someone who is grieving to take on by themselves. However, a little help and motivation from a friend may be just what it takes to make new and happy memories for everyone involved.

  • Gift them classes where they can get creative, such as painting classes, yoga, dancing, etc. We recommend the classes be introductory and ones that do not require long hours or a long-term commitment. That way, they are perceived as something fun and playful to try without pressure or being a burden to their time.

  • Help them start/grow a garden. Gardening has many potential therapeutic qualities and is proven to reduce stress. It is another way to be connected with nature and a form of creativity and physical activity. The garden can be at their house, your house, a public park (with proper permission), or even a private property that would allow it, such as a school/college, a grieving center, etc. One woman explains the many benefits she found in gardening through her blog and shared: “I thought I was just going to nurture my garden, and didn’t realize my garden is nurturing me.”

  • Take them on a trip. It doesn’t have to be far… Going out to new or less visited places will encourage them to disconnect from their day-to-day environment and maybe even help them find new perspectives on their situation.

  • If you are looking for a physical gift, an inspirational book can be a great way to distract them. Reading can actually reduce stress levels by 68%. You can find some great book ideas here.

Remind Them

Although sometimes people may want to be distracted, other times they may want to be reminded that their loved ones are not forgotten. Those grieving don’t want to feel that just because their loved ones are not with them anymore that their memories will be gone too. Therefore, allowing them to open up to you about the memories they have of them, as well as their own worries and feelings will surely make them feel better. You may have to let them guide you as to when, what, and how much they want to share, and give them the space to do so. Although, the most important gift you can give is a good listening ear and shoulder to cry on. We share below other ways you can help honor your friend or family member’s loved one in ways that will surely touch their heart.  

  • Gift a bear or other stuffed animals that bring comfort. For example, Snuggables, provides stuffed animals that have heat and aromatherapy benefits which are natural pain and stress relievers. Also, Build-a-Bear allows you to build your own bear and add recorded messages in them.

  • Gift a blanket with their loved one’s pictures, favorite team logos, etc. They’ll be able to cuddle up in their loved one’s memory. Collage can help turn photos into beautiful giftable blankets and throws. Because sometimes, especially for those grieving, resting in bed or on the couch sounds better than facing the day.

  • Have you heard of the The Giving Keys? They are a company that sells key pendants engraved with powerful words of your choosing, so for a friend who lost a loved one examples of words you may choose could be: love, courage, brave, etc. They encourage people who receive a key to pay it forward and later gift their pendants to other friends/family who they feel could use them, and so forth. The company also has a philanthropic mission and every purchase helps someone move out of homelessness.

  • Gift them a memorial accessory, such as rings and bracelets with their loved ones’ handwritten name or message. We found some great ideas on Pinterest.

  • Organize a balloon release activity, where notes are place inside or outside of the balloons and are released in memory of their loved one. If you are worried about the environmental effects of the balloons, there are several options for biodegradable memorial balloons. Other than balloons, you can use pebbles (use a sharpie to write their loved one’s name, personal messages, or buy already engraved stones), heart shaped bubbles, flowers/petals, etc. and leave or keep them where your friend would like.

  • Plant a tree in honor of their person. Maybe they or their loved one had a favorite tree or flower. By planting a tree or flower in memory of their loved one, you are giving a gift that keeps on giving. A Living Tribute is an organization that plants memorial trees in National Forests and may be an easier and least expensive way to plant a memorial tree.

Help Them

The ideas above are just a few ways to help show your friend or family member that you care and want to help. Whether you do it in a way that is distracting or reminding, they will feel loved and cared for. Of course distracting and reminding them is a way to help, but in this section we focus on practical day-to-day help that will give them the time and energy to focus on themselves and others. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that grieving is an arduous process that consumes a lot of our energy. In fact, 60% of someone’s energy goes into grieving as stress hormones are released into the bloodstream affecting our energy and mood levels, as well as our sleep patterns. Because of this, regular activities and tasks become harder to do, but they still have to eat, clean, and do all of the little daily chores while lacking the emotional, mental, and physical strength to do so. It is common for people to gift meals after the death of a loved one, but weeks or months later most of this support network will move on, naturally and understandably, which leaves a grieving individual or family with very little to no support when they may be needing it most.

One of the best sympathy gifts you could give someone who is grieving is practical support. KikuPal, an online grief support platform, helps those who are grieving find different paths for support, including taking care of chores, finding local resources for help, connecting with others who are grieving, etc. In particular, people can gift points to those grieving to help with the daily tasks. Gifted points, known as KikuPoints, can then be redeemed in exchange for practical services, such as meal delivery, housekeeping, lawn care, rides, and more. Sometimes the daily tasks get overlooked, but they take considerable amounts of time. KikuPal helps those in the process of grieving proceed with their daily activities, even weeks and months later. Learn more about KikuPal by visiting our How it Works page.

Do you have any other ideas on how to distract, remind, and/or help a friend or family member who is grieving? Please tell us about the best sympathy gifts you’ve received by commenting below.