A Holiday Gift-Giving Guide For Those Who Are Grieving
People (generally) love getting presents. It’s hard to beat the excitement of opening a beautifully gift-wrapped box that could be almost anything. But did you know that some studies have shown that giving a gift activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust in what some researchers call the “warm glow” effect? As we approach the holiday season, a traditional time of giving gifts, consider activating that “warm glow” effect in your own life by selecting a thoughtful gift to a loved one who may be grieving. In this blog, we’ll offer ideas for sympathy gifts that will encourage the recipient and even leave you the gift-giver smiling as well!
Understanding Grief During the Holidays
Grief is hard in any season: spring, summer, fall, or winter. But losing a loved one around the holidays, or walking into your first holiday season after a loss, is especially painful. I remember our first Christmas after losing our second son Cooper at full term back in March. Add on a miscarriage late in the first trimester in early November and that December felt pretty heavy. I remember stressing about what to put on our Christmas card because a picture of my husband, myself and our two-year-old son grinning for the cameras felt a little forced. It was supposed to be a card that featured four of us, not just three. I opted for a picture of just our toddler smiling with the new puppy we bought that winter to cheer us up. That’s the part you have to learn when you walk through a loss: do what you have to do to survive. Adapt. Pick your battles. For that friend who lost her spouse, she might dread the thought of going solo to those holiday parties. Offer to be her plus one when needed. If your friend is navigating the loss of a parent, reach out and offer to accompany her Black Friday shopping because that was always “their” tradition. Be open to supporting those loved ones on their terms - especially around the holidays!
Grief around the holidays is especially tricky. Even minor decisions like what to put on a family Christmas card can be challenging. In this picture of our digital proof (thus the poor quality - sorry, guys!), we opted for a smiling toddler and new puppy to spread holiday cheer when we weren’t feeling especially merry.
Gift Ideas for Grieving Individuals
1. Practical Gifts - gifts that help ease the burden of daily life
- Meals or meal delivery services
- House cleaning or organizing services
- Personalized calendar or planner
Think about it. The holidays can be draining on their own and when you add in the complex emotions that accompany grief, relieving daily stressors can be super helpful.
2. Personalized Remembrance Gifts - gifts that honor the life of the lost loved one
Sympathy gifts like keepsakes are so meaningful, especially around the holidays. I loved when friends sent me these Laurelbox ornaments that I could display on my tree and keep my son’s memory alive and part of our Christmas tradition.
- Books on grief and healing can be helpful. Here is one compilation (though I haven’t read any of these mentioned personally) and another focused on faith and grief.
- Subscriptions to grief counseling or support groups
The phrase “Knowledge is power” is real. Grief isn’t a new concept but there are resources and helpful information that can offer wisdom to those grieving.
Gift-Giving Etiquette and Tips
We’ve offered a variety of ideas to get your “giving” juices flowing and you should check out last December’s blog “The Art of Thoughtful Gift-Giving” for extra credit. It may also be helpful to think through how the person you are supporting might receive the grief gift. What I mean is what stage of the grieving process are they currently in? That may affect what type of gift you give. Grief counseling and resources might be most helpful immediately following a loss. Memento and keepsake gifts are probably always appropriate. Remember, your thoughtful gift for grieving is meant to acknowledge their loss and support them. Be mindful not to expect it to “solve” their grief or make them “feel better.” This video from grief expert Megan Devine and Refuge in Grief does an excellent job of explaining how best to support a grieving friend. It’s so important we allow our loved ones to grieve and heal at their own pace.
We hope this blog helped you figure out what gifts to give a grieving friend and what might be appropriate. It’s so important to love people in our circle during the holiday season. We all know stress can skyrocket during the final months of the year. In fact, a recent Healthline study found 62% of people admitted their stress level was “very or somewhat” elevated during the holidays. Add in the pressure we feel from social media, advertisements and even those around us to present a glossy idealized picture of holiday bliss and it’s a recipe for anxious thoughts - especially for those walking through a loss. Make sure to lead with empathy, understanding and compassion. Use this guide to make a positive impact on the lives of those grieving friends or family members who might be feeling like it’s not the “most wonderful time of the year.”
Lanna Britt was a national news producer in Washington DC for nearly a decade covering politics, breaking news and current events. She now lives with her husband and three children in Richmond VA. She has two sweet babies she’ll meet again in heaven.