Sympathy Gift Etiquette

It is difficult to know what to say or do when someone you care about is grieving. Below is a list of commonly asked questions regarding sympathy gift etiquette. The most important thing to remember is that your sympathy gift delivers the message, “someone is thinking about you and acknowledging your grief”. It says you care about family and friends who are grieving.

Is it appropriate to send a gift instead of flowers?

Yes. Flowers are the traditional method of acknowledging sympathy and a nice arrangement is a lovely gift. Acknowledgements has chosen to depart from this tradition due to feedback from family, friends and customers who have told us a lasting sympathy gift extends the message of caring. Flowers die and for many bereaved people, the day they have to throw the flowers out is another day of extreme sadness. That simple act can impart feelings of loneliness and sorrow and compound grief. All of Acknowledgements gifts have items that last and nurture the bereaved through their grief process. The keepsake gift box is often used to store cherished mementos of the deceased and the books are read and reread. A sympathy gift with a gardening theme honors the bereaved and the deceased throughout the seasons.

Do I send a gift even if there is not a service?

Yes, your gift sends the message that you care and are thinking of the family and friends who are grieving. There are numerous reasons people choose not to have a service, but the most common reason is the request of the deceased. When families honor that request and do not have a service they are still grieving. Your gift of sympathy provides support to them at a very important time. Funerals and memorial services although often very sad, provide family and friends a way to honor the memory and life of the deceased. Without a service to receive that support, the family is still very much in need of your message of condolence and support.

If the family requested a charitable donation “in lieu of flowers” is it still appropriate to send a sympathy gift?

Yes, your gift of sympathy provides visible, emotional support to friends and family at a time when they really need it. A sympathy gift sends your personal message of condolence. You may choose to express your condolences in more than one way; sending a card, making a charitable contribution, sending a sympathy gift and offering practical help and assistance. In some cases, families are saying we don’t want people to spend money on flowers. They believe that money is better spent through the charitable organization. However, they are not saying we don’t want gifts of support and comfort. If you feel a sympathy gift best conveys your message of condolence, the bereaved will certainly appreciate your support.

The funeral is already over. Is it still appropriate to send a sympathy gift?

A sympathy gift delivered to the home after the busyness of the funeral and visiting friends and family is often more appreciated. When others have returned to their own homes and lives, the arrival of a gift of sympathy can warm a grieving heart and deliver a special message – you are not forgotten. People continue to grieve after the funeral is over, anytime within the first year of death is an appropriate time to send a message of sympathy and support.

Is it appropriate to send a gift commemorating the one-year anniversary of the death?

The anniversaries and holidays that pass without the deceased are often very difficult for grieving friends and families. Sending a gift provides comfort and support when the bereaved are hurting. A sympathy gift received during these times is very special because it reminds the bereaved they are not forgotten. These sympathy gifts are sometimes referred to as ‘memorial gifts’ and their arrival validates an important part of the bereaved life; they are still grieving. Grieving takes time. It really is a life long journey and many times the bereaved are told they need to let go and move on long before it is time or they are ready. If you know a friend or family member is hurting and want to acknowledge the anniversary of death or a special holiday, a memorial gift is a true comfort.

I was close to the deceased but didn’t really know the family. Who do I send the sympathy gift to?

According to etiquette you send the gift to the closest relative of the person who has died (i.e.: the widow or the eldest child). It is appropriate in this case to inform the gift recipient how you were connected to the deceased. For example, in the case of the death of a business associate you may want to send something to the widow or widower. In your card you could say something like:
“June and I worked together closely on many accounts at ABC Inc., she was a wonderful woman and fantastic coworker. I/we will truly miss her and send you our deepest condolences.”

I am close to the grieving person but did not know the deceased. Is it still appropriate to send a gift?

This is a common occurrence as families move across the country and around the world from their family of origin. Your gift of sympathy will be warmly received even though you did not know the deceased. When someone is experiencing a difficult time, especially grief, it feels good to know that others are thinking of you and acknowledging your grief. Send your gift to the person with whom you are acquainted even if they are not the closest relative. It is very appropriate to send a gift of sympathy in this instance. During the grieving process we need support from our friends.

I already sent a sympathy card. Is it appropriate to send a sympathy gift a little bit later?

Grief does not need to be acknowledged in one package or in one specific way. Sending a sympathy card sends the message you care and are honoring the bereaved person’s loss. If you find out later someone is really struggling or you feel like your card just didn’t convey your message of support, it is appropriate to send a sympathy gift. Sympathy gifts are well received because they honor grief and provide support for the healing process.

As a group we sent flowers/made a memorial contribution to a friend or co-worker. Is it appropriate to follow up with a sympathy gift just from me?

If you want to send a more personal message of support, then sending a sympathy gift from yourself following a group gift is just fine. You may have a closer relationship with the bereaved than others in the group. Acknowledging this relationship with a gift just from you lets your friend know you care. That is truly the message you want to send to a friend who is grieving. Sometimes people feel they can’t do enough for friends who are grieving and sending a sympathy gift after a gift of flowers or a group memorial contribution offers support and comfort when someone really needs it.

When should I expect a thank you response from the person I sent the sympathy gift to?

Be patient with the bereaved as they deal with the feelings of grief and struggle to adjust to life without someone they care about. Many times someone will pick up the phone to say thank you for the sympathy gift. However, sitting down and writing thank you notes is difficult for many grieving people. They want to acknowledge those who provided them with support, but many times they are struggling just to get through the tasks of daily living. If you are wondering if the person received your gift it is okay to call and offer support to the grieving person. Through the course of your conversation you may feel comfortable asking if they received your gift. Often times they will thank you over the phone and apologize for their tardiness in getting out thank you cards. Just listen carefully to what the bereaved person is saying in your phone call and know that providing support to a grieving heart is much more important than receiving a timely thank you from someone who is experiencing a very difficult life transition. A thank you card will come in most instances – just be patient.