Gift for grieving friend
February 6, 2015 1:31 PM   Subscribe

The father of a friend of mine died unexpectedly this week. Another friend sent an email around asking if anyone would like to chip in money for flowers and a gift. Her friends are very generous and now we have $650 that we're not sure what to do with!

She is currently with her family in another state, and is obviously very busy right now.
The original proposal was a gift card for a massage, but our friend is a member of a spa that includes monthly massages.
The obituary did list a charity for donations, and some people have donated individually, but the person collecting for the gift strongly prefers that this be something directly for our friend.
She used to do a few different kinds of art, so we thought about studio time, but she hasn't done it in a while, so we're not sure if she's still interested in it.
Cash was suggested, but seems tacky, and another of the contributors thinks that would be overwhelming for our friend.
We've already got some people scheduled to bring food when she gets back in town.
Any ideas?
posted by amarynth to Human Relations (23 answers total)
My instinct would be to wait until she's back in town, subtly feel her out, and then get her something. What I mean is - maybe when she gets back, one of the things she talks about is complaining about how now she needs to schlep back to the family in a couple months for some kind of estate business and feh, how is she going to afford the ticket - and then you can say "why, let us help you with the ticket with this!" Or maybe she actually says something like "I was thinking that life's too short, and maybe I should take art back up again, you know?" and then you can say "why, lookie here, we got you studio time!"

You know? You don't need to buy her anything right this second, you can hang on to the money and wait to feel her out first. Waiting a little bit after the immediate fuss has died down will also send the message that your support isn't just for up front right at first, that your support is sustaining.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:39 PM on February 6, 2015 [15 favorites]

If the friend and the father had a combined interest in something - there may be a subscription gift box service you could purchase months worth of gifts in. This would recognize the ongoing grieving process and yet provide a reminder of the things they used to both enjoy together all at once.
posted by routergirl at 1:40 PM on February 6, 2015

A subscription to a meal service is always suggested here for good reason, even if there are people bringing food individually as well.

Other than that, maybe gift cards or tickets to some kind of entertainment - movies, restaurants, theatre/dance, comedy clubs etc. Even something like a netflix subscription, if she doesn't have one yet. And of course, somebody willing to go with her!
posted by randomnity at 1:41 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I lost my dad suddenly last year. I spent a couple of minutes thinking what I would have wanted, or what would have given me comfort. I can't think of a single thing, except the presence and time of my friends. Can you set it aside for a few months until everyone has "forgotten" about her loss, and then use it for a relaxing weekend getaway with the people who care about her? Or use it as a fund over the next year for her friends to take her to dinner/the movies/activities?
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 1:42 PM on February 6, 2015 [35 favorites]

Something in memorial? I don't know the price of a park bench but sometimes there are small public memorials that your friend might like. Or you could commission a small art piece that captures the essence of her father and their memories.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:43 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've commented here before about how I was completely weirded out when our family received cash upon the death of my grandmother, but I was so thankful to those kind folks later! A death is expensive, especially when that person leaves behind an estate that must be handled. I agree with EmpressCallipygos, there's no need to buy anything right now. See how things are when she returns, and go from there. The cash might be a godsend, or she might really want the art classes - every grief and every death brings with it different needs.
posted by backwards compatible at 1:45 PM on February 6, 2015 [10 favorites]

in my community, they're given the cash to aid with all the unexpected costs that result from the death, e.g. travel, burial expenses, etc.
posted by elle.jeezy at 1:49 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cash was suggested, but seems tacky, and another of the contributors thinks that would be overwhelming for our friend.

This is so dependent on class/culture; at many blue collar/service workplaces, cash collections are often informally taken when someone loses an immediate family member. (Meanwhile, when I floated the idea after a death in my white collar/professional set social group, it was seen as a weird thing.)

Feel her out if cash feels too awkward--could she do with a prepared meal service? Is there a retreat spot she likes? Etc.
posted by blue suede stockings at 2:01 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

The father of a good friend of mine just recently passed away as well, so this has been on my mind. After the frenzy of the funeral and all of the extreme rushing to plan events and host family and friends immediately after the death, there will be a slow-down and everyone will return to their normal lives. This leaves the grieving person mostly alone in their grief as people's attention moves to different things. This is the time when your friend could use support. Some fresh flower deliveries can make winter dreariness a little bit easier to deal with as can dinners out, mani/pedis, or trips to the movies where her portion is paid for. Keep her socially engaged and let her know that her friends are thinking of her even if they can't be there in person.
posted by quince at 2:03 PM on February 6, 2015

You could buy a bunch of gift cards for restaurants/activities and have her friends sign up to take her out and do stuff with her one-on-one to cheer her up.
posted by mermily at 2:09 PM on February 6, 2015

On a purely practical basis, until you have to arrange a funeral most people have no idea how much one costs. I'd send $150 worth of flowers and give her the rest with a card saying her friends collected these funds with love and want her to use them towards funeral costs, meal delivery, or whatever will the next few weeks easier for her.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:18 PM on February 6, 2015 [13 favorites]

Order flowers for the funeral home. I think it's nice for the family to have physical evidence that their daughter has good, thoughtful friends. Spend the balance on her when she gets back.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:27 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

My friend's mother passed away suddenly last year, and I was able to spend some time with her right after the funeral helping out. I can tell you what *not* to do: please don't get something that requires her to make ANY decisions right now or otherwise add to her current burden. A group of my friend's friends thought it would be lovely to honor my friend's mother with a tree to plant in her honor. Reader, They purchased a tree and delivered it to my friend's doorstep 2 days after the funeral! The very last thing my friend needed to have to do at that point was try to figure out where to plant a tree, how to transport it there, and who was actually going to plant it. My friend was on a strict diet, so would not have been thrilled to get meal delivery, either (thankfully that didn't happen or it would have been another round of "what do I do with this gift that has to be taken care of?")

I'd suggest a small amount spent on flowers (IMO, $50 is plenty for something perishable that, again, has to be dealt with after the service is over), and save the rest to help her out in the way that seems best in the coming months (nice suggestions from others above, like defraying costs, something she wants to remember her parent by, entertainment or food).

You are a good friend for being thoughtful about this!
posted by msbubbaclees at 3:01 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

but the person collecting for the gift strongly prefers that this be something directly for our friend.

Yeah, but with respect, it's not about what they strongly prefer, it's about what your friend needs. $650 is quite a bit of cash, I suggest flowers (always thought they were stupid until my dad died, and then found them unexpectedly touching and nice) and then sounding friend out.
posted by smoke at 3:07 PM on February 6, 2015

When my mother died, I was unable to think of a single thing that would make me feel better for quite some time. The thing I appreciated most was the arrival of a phalanx of my friends to help take care of details and make me laugh. Just showing up is the absolute best thing. Now that a year has passed, when I think of the week following my mother's death what makes me cry isn't the grief, but the feeling of overwhelming gratitude toward the people who showed up, ran errands, devised craft projects, intercepted family, and made me feel sane.

Failing or in addition to that, your friend might eventually think of something really dumb that would cheer her up or take her mind off of things. Someone needs to be there to hear it, and then y'all can spring into action. $650 can go a long way toward providing tiny moments of distracting joy! In my case I wanted to 1) eat an entire cake from Momofuku milk bar and 2) pet a giraffe*. My very lovely friends arranged for both things, and during a time when I was unable to control the parts of my life that mattered most, having such bizarre whims catered to was both hilarious and comforting. Also, the specificity of both gestures made me feel seen/understood/known in a way that was important at such a fucked-up time.

*to be clear, do not mail your friend a giraffe.
posted by ausdemfenster at 3:14 PM on February 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

Cash was suggested, but seems tacky, and another of the contributors thinks that would be overwhelming for our friend.

If your friend is in need of extra funds to help with the extra expenses she's had, but cash wouldn't be acceptable to her, there's always gift cards. You can get gift cards for grocery stores and gas stations. Make sure that they are for a chain that has a nearby location, some of these places that people think are national chains aren't. If you know her preferred grocery stores those would be best.

It's also possible to give such things anonymously.

Otherwise, I would wait a bit until after she gets back and there's an opportune time for a gift. Welcoming back someone from a funeral with a surprise present isn't a great idea unless it's something unequivocally useful right then. If you give her studio time or art supplies right then, she's always going to be thinking of the funeral time when she uses them.
posted by yohko at 3:37 PM on February 6, 2015

Unless she is a gajillionaire, cash is so helpful after an unexpected death. There's just so much stuff to get done, and nobody budgets for all the gas and take out dinners and last minute that-dress-doesn't-fit-anymore, or Aunt Tilly needs something from the drug store.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 3:39 PM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Try to think of this in the context of "Sorry about the $10,000 bill; here is $500 in Trader Joe's gift cards, enjoy the baba ganoush!"
posted by DarlingBri at 5:08 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are also many birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays to come when her absence will be deeply felt. You could pre-order or reserve some funds for a variety of "in honor of your loving mother" deliveries on the date of her mother's death and birthday for the next few years.
posted by slidell at 5:17 PM on February 6, 2015

I'd go with a check. She probably just paid for an expensive last-minute plane ticket; funerals are expensive; and she's no longer going to get those quiet gifts of a couple 20s that most fathers I know slip their kids on their trips home. Give her the money.
posted by amaire at 5:27 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

My dad died unexpectedly recently. One of the best things we were sent was edible arrangements. It's basically fruit on a stick, it was easy to eat and much healthier than all the cookies and breads and stuff. We got three or four of them and they were great. They're fairly expensive, so you could get a big sent to their house and maybe some flowers if they like flowers.
posted by raeka at 5:37 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

^^^ Edible arrangements. We all pretty much stopped eating regularly, so having this wonderful fresh fruit was a dream. I sat in the dark eating pineapple and cried at how good it was.

And seconding to save a little back, if you can, for flowers on her next birthday, or her father's birthday, or the first anniversary of his passing. I'm touched when people remember.
posted by mochapickle at 5:47 PM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Thank you all. This was really helpful.
posted by amarynth at 4:59 AM on February 10, 2015

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