When someone dies, it’s natural to want to express our love and comfort to friends who are experiencing the loss. But what do you give to a family when they are grieving?
Essentially, we want them to know we’re thinking of them and wish beyond all wishes that we could take away the pain and sadness that they’re experiencing. We know there’s not a gift in this world that could even begin to make up for the great cavernous loss that they are facing (can we please take it as a given that we know NOTHING can replace that irreplaceable loved one?), but merely want to wrap them in as much love as we can muster. And in some circumstances, the only way we can do that is to send a thoughtful gift or card. But it’s hard to know exactly what to give in order to express that love and comfort at such a difficult time. So I wanted to share some ideas that you can draw on next time you need it, based on some beautiful gifts that have been shared with us over the past two years.
While I am obviously writing this from the perspective of a family who has lost a child, I think the sentiments can be shared for grief and loss in different circumstances too – or maybe it will spark an idea for you, anyway.
Garden Variety Presents
Now, I don’t want to offend anyone who sent us flowers after Nicholas died (I promise I LOVE flowers and this is only something I learned through our experience). Flowers are beautiful and dialling a florist is a convenient way to quickly send something to a loved one to express your sentiments. But consider, if you will, when many many people send flowers simultaneously, it’s difficult to find enough vases to display them in, you can run out of space in the house, and they all die around the same time, which means there are flowers sitting around that need to be managed and disposed of. This is possibly the last thing someone feels like doing in the midst of early grief.
So, if you want to send something of a plant variety, perhaps consider a botanical gift that will last a little longer. Maybe an orchid, a potted plant or a tree that can be put in the garden as an ongoing reminder of the person that has died. We received an ‘Everlasting Love’ (Golden Arrow Plumeria pudica) franjipani plant for our garden which is a beautiful reminder of our beautiful boy, and also had a special meaning for the person who gave it to us.Another botanical gift option is a living succulent wreath, such as these beautiful creations from Fleurieu Gifts. We were also given a few orchids. I’m not even remotely a green thumb, but as each of the orchids lost their blooms, I dug a hole and put the plant in a random spot in our garden (without a lot of thought) and every now again, we see a new bud appear. This amazing Phalaenopsis orchid currently has six flowers on it, two years later!
As a family, we often spend time in our backyard, so along the lines of the garden theme, here are some other outdoor ideas.
We received these windchimes from the DSDN Network personalised with Nicholas’ name on them and they now live in our favourite family spot in the backyard. At first I resisted putting them up outside, wondering if the sound would annoy us, but we absolutely love them. Every time there is even a gentle breeze, we hear the beautiful music drift from outside and they remind us that Nicholas is always with us. You can source personalised windchimes through Personal Creations and Windsong Chimes.
If you’ve followed us for a while, you’ll know that Nicholas was well known for being a big lover of apples. Friends of ours had a beautiful rustic apple artwork made that is now a permanent fixture in our garden.
Other outdoor ideas might include a garden seat/bench with a personal dedication, or these beautiful garden stepping stones.
From a group of friends in the international Down syndrome community and were thinking of us from afar, we received a Laurel Box gift box, which is especially curated for families experiencing grief and loss. The box contained forget-me-not seed paper, herbal tea, teacup and spoon, teatowel, essential oil and a beautiful ‘N’ necklace (that Sam quickly adopted). For those in Australia, Supermumma & Co. deliver beautiful gift boxes for a range of occasions, including a special memory box for bereaved families with a dragonfly theme, to remind us of the angels who fly on their wings. Love, Emma also have special care packages for the harder moments in life, created by the gorgeous Emma Betts and now carried on by her parents. Or maybe you could create a special care package of your own, with items that you know the grieving family would appreciate.
Many of the bereaved mothers I have spoken to have found comfort in keepsake jewellery that keeps their little one close to their heart, and I am no exception. I have been given some beautiful necklaces, handmade earrings (sealed with a kiss) and a locket, as well as Pandora charms, in memory of Nicholas.
There are plenty of clever designers out there who can personalise jewellery these days. Oh My Giddy Aunt is based in Brisbane and makes unique jewellery pieces which would make precious keepsakes. The necklace I probably wear most often is a ‘circle of love’ necklace that has the names of our three boys on it, which came from Hilary & June. I also have a necklace stamped with the first initials of all our family members on it from the gorgeous One Sixteenth Designs, and Uberkate is another beautiful Australian business that I’m lucky enough to own a necklace from. I love having the names of all three of my boys in the one place, especially when one of those boys is no longer in my arms – it reminds me that I will always be a Mum of three boys.
All the men in my family wear a ring that has a letter of Nicholas’ name on it, which I think is pretty special. We gave Sam and Charlie their own rings (with Nicholas’ name engraved on the inside) on the first anniversary of living without their little brother.
Sam particularly loves this vintage locket from Mrs Smiley’s that has ‘To the Moon and Back’ engraved on the front and we’ve put two of our favourite photos inside it.
As a different style of jewellery, one of our friends bought this treasure from a local market and Sam suggested we should fill the little bottle with the sand from one of Nicholas’ favourite places, his local kindy. The kindy will always hold a special place in all our hearts, so we thought that was a very good idea.
I will write a separate post outlining books that we have found helpful in talking through grief and loss with the boys, but there are some gorgeous picture books available on the topic, and books that we feel have a special connection with Nicholas. Just to name a few in our collection, we own The Invisible String, Lifetimes, The Memory Tree, Finn’s Feather, In My Heart, Wherever You Are, I Miss You and My Brother.*
Another beautiful book that I have bought for myself is ‘On Coming Alive’ by Lexi Behrndt, which is a book of journal prompts to help process the many facets of grief.
Photographs & Artwork
Even though Nicholas was possibly the most extensively photographed child on the planet, it is so precious to receive a photograph or a video that was taken by someone else and that we may not have seen before. It gave us a different perspective on our child, and a reminder that they are loved by people outside of our own family. Do you have any photos of the person who has died that you could give to the grieving family?
One of our friends gave us a little wooden box filled with hard copies of photographs I’d posted on Instagram and wrapped it in a bow, and I also loved receiving a mounted photograph the very talented and gorgeous Georgia Brizuela had taken during our Tula photoshoot that so beautifully captures the love between a mother and her beloved son.
Another of our artistic friends created a portrait of Nicholas in pencil, painstakingly drawing in all that white blonde hair and sending it to us from the US. We know how much love went into that portrait.
And the boys particularly love this precious superhero artwork, from the very clever Alexis at Ink on the Wall, which hangs on Charlie’s bedroom wall. We are lucky enough to own two of her gorgeous creations.
A Little Outside the Square
While we often think of Nicholas when looking out into the starry sky, Nicholas now officially has a star named after him through the International Star Registry, thanks to some lovely friends, and we think that’s pretty special. (For those in Australia, you can find Nicholas’ star in the lower right quadrant of the Southern Cross).
We have had wooden keepsake boxes made for each of the boys where they can keep their photos and other physical memories of Nicholas. Our boxes were created by Timbox Designs in Bendigo, and are personalised with the boys’ names and a favourite quote. As another beautiful option for storing precious items, friends gave us a stunning vintage suitcase complete with an engraved message on a metal plaque inside the lid.
Handmade blankets can be a treasured gift for families who have lost a child, especially young children and babies. We have received two very special blankets handmade with so much love, and the boys each have beautiful little cushions on their beds from Cotton Memories with photos of Nicholas on them.
Acts of Service
While the memorial and keepsake gifts are lovely, you don’t need to get too fancy. Consider practical things that can help the family as they wade through the heaviness of grief and don’t have the headspace for too much else.
- Gift packs to keep the other siblings busy while Mum and Dad don’t have much energy (our boys spent quality time building big Lego sets they’d been gifted).
- Offers to take the siblings on an outing to give Mum and Dad some time out.
- Use a website/app like Mealtrain to organise food for the family on a roster, or just bake a slice they can put in the freezer and eat a bit whenever they feel hungry.
- Massage vouchers.
- Cleaning services, walk their dog, or just go and mow their lawn.
- A letter talking about memories of the loved one and what they meant to you.
- Donations to relevant charities in the loved one’s honour.
- Organise a fund through service such as GoFundMe for the family to help with expenses during a difficult time.
At the end of the day, we know that nothing is going to bring back the loved one who has died and nothing can alleviate that brutal pain of grief, especially in the early stages. What you really want to communicate through your gift is that you love and care for the family who is grieving, and you will continue to love and remember the person who has died.
To help you think of a heartfelt gift, some questions you can consider:
- What things/themes remind you of the person who has died? (rainbows and apples were a favourite theme for Nicholas)
- What is your favourite memory of the person who has died?
- What do you think might be helpful for the grieving family right now?
- What would bring comfort to the grieving family into the future?
You don’t need to rush into a present – maybe send a card first and then you can follow it up with a gift down the track. And, although your thoughtfulness is sure to be appreciated, don’t expect to receive an official thank you. Sometimes it’s hard enough for those who are experiencing grief to get out of bed in the morning, let alone think about the formalities of writing thank you cards (even if they really want to). Please know your offer of thoughtfulness is gratefully received, whether you hear back or not.
Everyone is different and the present suggestions above may not be relevant for all families, but hopefully they give you some ideas (outside of a bunch of flowers 😉 ) to show your love and support when the unthinkable happens. Sometimes what feels like the ‘smallest’ gift can make the biggest difference because it’s come from your heart.
PS. A very big thank you to everyone who has sent us beautiful messages, cards, flowers and gifts from across the world, even if yours isn’t mentioned above. Each and every thing that has been done and given to us is so appreciated, and we are so grateful for your love and thoughtfulness.
* The links to the Children’s books mentioned in this paragraph are available on the Booktopia online bookstore. If you make a purchase via these affiliate links, I will receive a small percentage of the sale.