Gift Ideas for My Widowed Sister?
December 10, 2016 11:00 AM   Subscribe

What are some practical gift ideas for my recently widowed sister?

My younger sister was suddenly widowed on Halloween and she is still in the throes of grief. This holiday season has been rough on her and I want to get her something that will make life a little easier. I was thinking about getting her a certificate for some massages or home-delivered meals. Her husband loved to cook, but she has no patience for it.

This seems like a really dense question, but what are some practical gift ideas for a grieving sister, other than my time and love? We live in the Twin Cities, if that's helpful. I appreciate any ideas you can share.
posted by wintermute2_0 to Shopping (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it really depends on what she's doing/not doing to cope... some might want distraction, others not at all. (Massages would not have gone down well with some people close to me, at least, in the immediate aftermath... "how can I enjoy this when", etc. [The idea of anything like that actually angered them.] But someone else might recognize that kind of self-care as important.) I think, keep listening for cues. If she's talked about cooking being a hassle, a service for home-delivered meals is a great idea, imo. Maybe a gift card for a grocery store [with hot counter] or restaurant she likes? Help with cleaning might be useful (if she's not cleaning much). Or, straight-up ask her, and maybe give her an unrelated stocking stuffer that's a surprise, something useless and lovely that she wouldn't get for herself.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:13 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

It greatly depends on your relationship to your sister, but if she needs help with the legal and financial/tax stuff you could make her life much easier by 'vetting' attorney and account folks if that's not already been done. (I was in my 40's when it happened and was clueless and embarrassed to not know how or feel up to that stuff.)

While you cannot 'make it better' it sounds like you're a caring person who could also be feeling the loss: reminder that it's OK to talk about him and let her know how much he brought to this world. Maybe you can make a booklet that recounts some of his sayings or specialness. The gift of celebrating someone who is missed can be reaffirming and allowinhim to be 'present' is still worthwhile. It requires a lot of families to not want to avoid something that may bring up 'bad things' but giving her the freedom to remember him and validate their relationship with family is a beautiful gift. (I know it would have helped me; widiwed on Dec 24th and nobody in my family has ever mentioned him after the service....)

If you want to give her an experience then maybe pick something you can do together; such as, take a cooking class together, learn pottery, get massages at the same time....but make it a shared event because that is now missing in her's nice to build new shared memories that y'all can talk about. It helps her dig back into life by creating new memories.
posted by mightshould at 11:22 AM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Are there things you can identify (or she's identified) that she's doing now to help her cope? If so, are there ways you can make that better? If she's been curling up on the couch and watching Netflix, maybe a more-luxurious blanket or slippers, or a subscription to a new streaming service, or a Roku. If she's been ordering take-out in order not to deal with food, then meal deliveries (as you mentioned). If she's been distracting herself with work or exercise or some other hobby, maybe something related to that. I think, basically, if you can help her feel supported in whatever way she's currently grieving, that can sometimes feel really validating to the person grieving.
posted by lazuli at 11:22 AM on December 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

In terms of practical gifts, my immediate thought was, were there other household tasks that he was always responsible for that she has now had to pick up, and is there some way you can help alleviate those until a point when she is less overwhelmed? For example, X hours of handyman service for odd jobs around the house. We're heading into winter in the Twin Cities, so maybe paying for a season's worth of snow removal. If he generally handled their money, a couple hours of someone's time to help sort through all the bills, call each company, and transfer the accounts into her name, or cancel services and accounts that belonged to him alone, or guide her through other upcoming tax and legal implications.

if you go the food route, Let's Dish is pretty good and varied, and they'll assemble everything for you a $35 fee that is 100% worth it (if it's just her now, make sure to have them split each dish). You can place an order online and set a pickup window and they even help bring it to your car. Kowalski's and Lunds/Byerlys both have very nice delis and hot bars, and Trader Joe's has lots of good frozen meals. Ready Meats of all places also has some very good prepared stuff in their freezer.

For a cleaning service, Two Bettys is fabulous and they'll arrange everything over the phone and email you the bill later, all she has to do is open the door when they arrive.

On the sentimental side, when my grandmother passed away, I got my aunt (her daughter) a beautiful necklace with an inscription commemorating their mother/daughter relationship. She immediately burst into tears when I gave it to her, but assured me they were meaningful tears. While I haven't lost a spouse, I've experienced other devastating losses, and I remember that seeing little spots of beauty here and there really helped when the rest of the world seemed flat and colorless. Floral arrangements sent in the aftermath made me sob, but a beautiful wreath for the door would have been really well-received.

I'm so sorry for your family's loss.
posted by anderjen at 1:06 PM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am very sorry for her loss.

Our friend's husband recently died after a very long illness. We bought her a small, pretty cushioned zippered pouch containing a small wooden pipe with beautiful plum colored wood inlay slide-lid, a small lighter, and an already-filled airtight plastic container.

She had commented previously that she'd always wanted a kit, we figured this would probably be the perfect time for it. She said it made her genuinely happy to have a need so kindly and directly addressed. This, of course, would need to be appropriate for the individual.

I've also gifted friends who've experienced deep loss/grief with float tanks, massage, things to help them be able to get back in touch with themselves in a gentle way, if only for a little while.
posted by mcbeth at 1:29 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Snow remova service would be a great gift, if she has a living situation that makes her responsible for that. I think your meal delivery idea is good too. Would she like something like Blue Apron, where meal planning, grocery shopping, and prep work are taken care of, but the cooking itself is still up to her? There are a bunch of services like that, that will deliver a few meals a week to her house.
posted by beandip at 1:56 PM on December 10, 2016

Meal delivery is nice, but another way to approach that would be that every time you make dinner for yourself, you make an extra portion and freeze it for her - then every week bring her over a week's worth of home cooked meals that she can re-heat and enjoy. you'd need to get a bunch of foil trays for stuff that goes in the oven, and tupperware for microwavable stuff, but I think the result would be more personal, and not too much extra work for you once you got into the habit.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:39 PM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I wasn't widowed, but my marriage ended catastrophically one October, and for Christmas what I would really have wanted was help filling in for my husband -- cleaning, fixing, carrying, cooking, paying bills, handling the boring, awful day to day stuff that is so much lighter with a partner.

I needed to change our house to my house, and I wanted someone to just be with me as I went through his things, or our things, and purged and dealt with it all. I needed someone with a good enough sense of who I was to help me make decisions that I wasn't equipped to make, small and large.

My financial situation suddenly changed radically, and I needed help putting off decisions that could wait, and making changes that couldn't. Having someone who understood finance would have been invaluable. She'll need to do his taxes and deal with his estate; hiring someone for her, and maybe being there when they meet, would likely be incredibly helpful.

Thus anderjen's advice seemed just right to me.
posted by Capri at 3:55 PM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Floral arrangements sent in the aftermath made me sob

I thought it was just me.
posted by superfish at 3:55 PM on December 10, 2016

Nthing the idea of things that take a chore or two off her hands, especially those that her husband may have done, such as already prepared meals or snow removal. I'll never forget the kindness our neighbors showed us taking turns and delivering us cooked dinners for a few months after my father passed. Even as a 12-year-old, I appreciated and understood how much of a help it was to have this daily task taken care of so we didn't have to think about cooking or grocery shopping the same way as if my (not only widowed but also recently blinded) Mom and I were cooking all of our meals ourselves. Snow removal service is also a great idea, regardless of who did it before, unless it is already taken care of by someone else.

I also think gifting tools for self-care is a great approach. If she's not up to getting massages or something like that, something she can use at home to relax and self-soothe is a wonderful idea. A super soft, warm throw, a nice hand lotion, and/or a portable back massager might be even more helpful as a one-off but magnificent massage.

You're all grieving now, though at different levels. Trust that you know your sister best. She is the same person you've always known and loved; she is just experiencing tremendous grief. Showing up, being there for her, & any thoughtful gesture or gift will be appreciated and help her get through this. My condolences for her and your family's loss.
posted by katemcd at 9:14 PM on December 10, 2016

In my family, we're dealing with a similar loss and the biggest help as been availability to do work or chores that the grieving spouse is unable to do. Your sister doesn't need a gift, she needs you to be present and available to do the things that she can't right now.
posted by blessedlyndie at 11:50 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Could you hire a cleaner for her? And invite her over to your place for meals (to get her out the house) or bring her food?
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 4:48 AM on December 11, 2016

Thanks for all the great suggestions. I'd love to help my sister with cooking and chores, but my own physical disability makes that impossible. I think I'll get her a gift card to Lunds/Byerlys so that she can get some decent food from the deli, along with some nice soaps and lotions.

Happy holidays, everyone. Here's hoping 2017 is less awful.
posted by wintermute2_0 at 10:50 AM on December 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Aside from the snow removal stuff, I think a kind thing to do is to accompany your sister to any events that she's planning on attending where she would definitely feel the absence of her plus-one. Kids' school plays, or a work Christmas party, or going out to buy food for Christmas day.
posted by amicamentis at 8:14 AM on December 12, 2016

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