Sympathy Gift Etiquette

teddy bear, muffins, flowers, and a card

The Spruce / Margot Cavin 

When someone loses a loved one, there's nothing anyone can do to completely ease the pain. However, any kind gesture to offer support and let a friend know you care can be a good thing.

You may also consider sending a sympathy gift if you're unable to attend the funeral. It's best to send it as soon after the funeral as possible.

Whether you attend the funeral or not, you may still want to give someone a condolence gift to let her know you are thinking of her. It doesn't need to be expensive. In fact, sometimes the smaller, more thought-out gifts or gifts of service are the most appropriate.

You need to think about the occasion and her sensibilities to avoid appearing thoughtless about her grief. Whether or not you decide to send a gift, a sympathy card is always in order.

Illustration of lilies and teddy bear as sympathy gifts
The Spruce / Sarah Bolton

When Should You Send a Gift?

Although the ideal time to send a sympathy gift is as soon as possible after the funeral, it's never too late. If weeks or months have passed, you can still send or bring something to the friend to show that you've been thinking of her.

What Type of Gift is Appropriate?

If you know the person well, you can give anything you think he'd like as long as it doesn't make the recipient feel worse than he already feels about his loss. Food is generally a safe bet, as long as you know what he likes.

Before you spend a fortune at the florist, find out if flowers are acceptable to the family. Some cultures and religions frown upon flowers during a time of mourning. You can also give a donation to a charity in honor of the deceased. Don't forget to let the survivors know that you did this. Some charities will send a card or letter to the family, but it's okay for you to send one as well.

Other comforting items may be a photo album, frame, or keepsake box to hold mementos. If you have a picture or something special that you know the person will love, by all means, add it.

Who Should Receive a Sympathy Gift?

It is appropriate to send a gift to any member of the family of the deceased or anyone in the immediate family. You may also consider giving something special to a close friend or significant other of the person who passed. If the deceased had a favorite cause or charity, consider donating money or something in memory of your late friend and include that in your sympathy card.

After a child loses a family member, something soft to snuggle with will be appreciated. Many children find comfort in stuffed animals and soft blankets. After the loss of a pet, you may want to frame the child's favorite photo of the animal and give it to him or her.

Religious Preferences

Before sending a gift, find out what the religious customs and preferences are. For example, while it is appropriate to send flowers or food after a Christian passes, the flowers would not be appropriate for someone of the Jewish faith. If you want to give food to someone who is Jewish, make sure it is kosher.

If the person is of a faith you're not familiar with, contact the local church, synagogue, or temple and ask. Most clergy and people who work for the religion will be happy to advise you.

Gift of Money

Although it may seem too easy to give money since you don't have to spend time picking out something special, it is often the most appreciated gift of all. In addition to funeral expenses, there may be other things that the survivors need, particularly if the deceased was a primary or partial breadwinner in the family.

If you choose to give money, be as discreet as possible and avoid making an issue of it. This is not the time to embarrass anyone. Put your check or cash inside an envelope with the sympathy card and hand it to the person you want to receive it. If you're concerned that it won't be opened right away, you might mention that there is something extra inside. 

Be extra sensitive about giving money because you don't want to humiliate a person or damage her pride. You may want to jot a note stating that since you weren't sure what to get, you want her to choose something that will help her remember her loved one.

Gift of Service

The person in mourning might not need a tangible item but may benefit from something you can do for her. Consider offering to watch her children for an afternoon, pick up her laundry from the dry cleaners, or do something else that might make her life less stressful. This simple act of kindness might be exactly what she needs.