The guide to giving a thoughtful condolence gift



My phone vibrated and even before I looked at the screen, I had a bad feeling. I  took a deep breath and answered. It was my uncle letting me know that the matriarch of our family, his bride of 60+ years had died. He sounded defeated, small.  I was standing in the produce aisle holding an avocado as the tears rolled down my cheeks. I asked if he was with his kids and he said yes, he was good.  It was agonizing to learn that the funeral was the next day. It would be impossible to fly to Pennsylvania from Seattle in time for the service. I sent my love and reluctantly, sadly hung up. I checked out, drove home and sat at my desk with L, going over flights. There was no way I could make it home to the east coast in time.

The next morning I said a prayer for Aunt J and her family and I wondered how I could best express my sorrow/gratitude for having had such a remarkable woman in our family. While I would typically make a meal or bring flowers over to a bereaved friend, this instance left me befuddled. At 90, my uncle didn't need flowers. A mass card would be for Aunt J's soul, not for my uncle. What could I send that would extend our condolences? I decided to ask my friends.

God bless them. Here are their suggestions:

  • A memory lamp
  • Gift cards to a local favorite restaurant
  • Photos of us (Aunt J, Uncle R and I) that I could frame along with a note of a favorite memory
  • A glassybaby in a color to remember the deceased or in a color called Remember
  • A month's worth of notes mailed each day for 30 days
  • A story or poem about their love for each other
  • A memory tree
I loved all of these ideas. I especially liked the restaurant gift card idea. As my friend Carin said "Eating alone stinks and this way, even if he's alone, he may bump into someone he knows." I remember when my grandfather died, the last thing my grandmother wanted to do was cook. Even if the bereaved isn't up to actually dining out alone yet, he or she can still order take out and have a warm meal. 

The most important thing is to do something, even a simple card.  If you don't know the deceased well, in a case where you may only know the bereaved, a card sent to their home a week or so after their loss can mean the world. If you don't know what to say, here are some sentiments that can help get your support across. 

"Wherever you are you will always be in my heart." - Gandhi

"May God comfort your grieving heart."

"Hold onto the love, not the loss."

If it is the loss of a baby, this phrase is beautiful. (It provided immense comfort to me when I lost my baby.)

"How very quietly you tiptoed into our world, silently, only a moment you stayed. But oh, what an imprint your footprints have left upon our hearts."

And for the loss of a pet: 

"Grieve not. nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were still beside you. I loved you so. . .
Twas heaven here with you."

Grief is a terrible thing. The only thing that helps alleviate it, even for a moment, is knowing that you have support around you. As I wrote this, I think of Uncle R and how his life has become something he doesn't know. I pray that he is surrounded with people who love him and who can make him laugh with the stories of Aunt J. That is what matters, isn't it? The memory of the love that stays until we embrace again.