Condolence gift?
December 25, 2013 9:51 PM   Subscribe

After the Recent suicide of an old friend who lives out of town, I have been trying to think of an appropriate gift that might bring any degree of comfort to his devoted wife. Rule out flowers and foods. donations don't really rock my boat. I want to avoid the presumption of books about spirituality or grieving/ healing. I am stumped. Any ideas?
posted by Lylo to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't give a gift per se. Give support. That means a brief, thoughtful card of condolence that speaks fondly of your friend, hand-written, nothing goofy or clever or mass-produced. If you have something that belonged to the friend, send that along (and note that you're sending it because it belonged to him and you want her to have it.) The gift you're giving, then, is a bit of reassurance that she's not the only one who misses your friend, that she's not alone in her suffering.
posted by davejay at 10:03 PM on December 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

This might seem odd, but one idea is a few nice flowerpots. When my dad died, my mom received dozens of house plants, but none of came potted. We had to go out and buy a bunch of pots, which was kind of expensive given the quantity. If you send really attractive pots, they could still be decorative even if she doesn't have the same problem.

If you think she might be overwhelmed with household work, you could maybe pay for help.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by Comet Bug at 10:08 PM on December 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a reason Hallmark doesn't make cards for this occasion, and that there's no appropriate gift that automatically comes to mind. Possibly massage gift cards? As Davejay says, what she needs now is a good ear, and no need to filter her reactions for the audience.
She'll be going through a whole lot...emotionally and physically, so I'd leave of the tender remembrances until she's in a better place to deal with them.
Flowering things (Care of FTD, or whomever can ship live plants in soil at this time of year) would be invigorating to many... but really, you should call her and ask her how she's feeling. That may be the best gift you can give. Don't try to tell her how your feelings match up to hers, but if you're feeling generous, open up the line to her, let her rip and be there for her. If she's not wanting to open up., just let it lie, ask what you can do and call it a night.

Above all, be there down the road.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 10:21 PM on December 25, 2013

I know you ruled it out, but - like you - I've always been a bit blah about flowers. However, when my dad died earlier this year, I was surprised by how grateful I was for flowers, how thoughtful I found them, and how welcomed they were in my house during a dark time.

I did not want phone calls - or to talk to anyone - I did not want something that required acknowledgement, management, or any disruption to my fragile routine. Flowers are something I only occasionally buy myself - and never especially nice bunches, require no real looking after, and put some splashes of colour in my life when I needed them, and were easily binned when I didn't/the time was past. They didn't require any grand show of though, and they let me know that people were there for me even whilst they were respecting my need for space.

In short, don't underestimate flowers.
posted by smoke at 10:27 PM on December 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

Personal note/letter talking about your friend. Agree with smoke on flowers.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:49 PM on December 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

A photo album of pictures of your friend.
posted by salvia at 11:59 PM on December 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are good suggestions above but my comment was more about your search so far: donations may not really rock your boat, but I think the more important question is whether a donation would rock hers. This may apply to other categories as well...
posted by whatzit at 12:32 AM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would send her a self-care package, maybe something like this or this (or you could make up your own, of course.) However, I would be very mindful to send a clear note to put the gift into a very specific context: "A gentle reminder to be kind to yourself and take care of you during this awful time" or something.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:00 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry for your loss.

A few things to consider, from a recent widow.

First, it is likely that the family has already really considered what they want and have so indicated. (If someone in the family has said no flowers, they darn well mean it. If they have indicated a charity they wish donations to be made to, they mean that as well. All of these decisions are not made lightly.)

Second, donations may not rock your boat, but this is about her, and it may well rock hers. (As mentioned above.) I remember every single name of every single person who gave a donation in my husband's name. It still moves me to tears. If a charity has been indicated by the family, please please please think no further and donate to that. If one hasn't been indicated, think long and hard about your friend and what he loved and strongly consider donating to that.

Third, the stages of grief can really change how someone reacts to something. And there is a distinct possibility that this poor woman is going to spend a lot of time in shock and anger.

In shock, the things she is going to most remember and appreciate are those who helped her with the things she couldn't cope with. Everything else you literally forget. Consider sending her a note (either an email or a handwritten note on literal stationary, not a card) telling her that you are thinking of *her* at this time, and offer to do something to help her. You mention that you do not live close to the widow, but that her husband was an old friend. Do you perhaps know his parents and/or siblings well and/or are closer geographically to them or in his home town? Did you go to school with him? Consider suggesting that in the note - I live in x, which is close to y, where z relative lives - is there anything I can do to help you coordinate things with them? Or, we went to w school together - would you like for me to help with contacting or handling our group of friends from then? But please don't assume you know or try to guess what she needs - please please ask. And if she says no thanks, please take her at her word. You have already given the gift of the offer.

In anger, she might not want any more reminders of her husband. So while some of the suggestions above like a card about how much you loved him, or a book with photographs of him in it, are typically excellent suggestions, they may not be in this particular case. I would suggest waiting until later, when she has had some time to heal. (Some of the people I appreciate the most are friends of my husbands who have posted memorials - subtle, not ostentatious - on Facebook, not right after his death, but on his birthday a year later, or on the anniversary of his death a year later. This is part of being there and remembering in later years, the importance of which cannot be overstated. I also really really appreciate the friends that send a Christmas note or a note on my birthday and say hey -we're thinking of you.)

Feel free to memail me, if you would like.
posted by susiswimmer at 3:24 AM on December 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

A nice cuddly blanket.
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:30 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get a card with a beautiful photo on the outside and a blank inside - say a field of red poppies with a giant sunflower in the middle. Send it with a handwritten note saying "My thoughts are with you in your grief. Keep your head up. You're one in a million."
posted by KRS at 5:55 AM on December 26, 2013

Thank you all but especially DarlingBri. I have already sent a note, and made a phone call. I was looking for a comforting gift in ADDITION to my note, not instead of. Although I did not select the item DarlingBri linked to, it led me to other things on the Etsy site such as this which I think will be perfect, and unlike flowers, will not be a reminder of things that die too soon.
posted by Lylo at 8:47 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the things that has been great for me as a recent widower was finding friends of my wife who'd adopt her stuff: clothes and jewellery for the most part. A whole group of them came over and I gave 'em a couple of bottles of prosecco and they shared out the lovely things they wanted to remember her with, and helped me out by bagging up the rest for charities. Not only was it practical help, but it helped me share the burden of remembrance. Just knowing that people who really knew her were remembering too, every time the wore a pair of her boots or wore her earrings, is lovely. (They even wore some of her stuff to her funeral, which I just loved.) Anyway, point being, sometimes it's of help to offer to take away something (whether it be possessions, or some task or other) just as much as it is to give something. I guess it had to be up to me to initiate that though, but I am glad I did. Also, offering car rides and the like has been welcome, even just for company whilst dealing with some of the paperwork or stuff like that. Ugh the paperwork. If you can get close enough to help with any of that, and are thick-skinned enough to just quietly get on with it, you can help make a big source of stress go away. Heck, just sorting papers. But of course the specific situation will define whether you can really help in this way, what with different folks' sense of privacy and stuff. Sometimes I just feel like taking a holiday from it all. Maybe you can help by just doing something totally ordinary with maybe another friend or two. Just an everyday thing? Or it might not be appropriate...
posted by aesop at 8:59 AM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do you have any old letters/emails from the friend that would be comforting to share with his widow? Just lost a friend, and receiving a few unexpected, select passages from letters written by him many years ago were a great solace.
posted by Gotanda at 3:57 AM on January 20, 2014

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