January 22, 2024

Customizing Sympathy: Personalized Gift Ideas for Every Stage of Grief

by Lanna Britt

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a hundred times, grief is hard. It’s not predictable. If you have a family member or loved one who is walking through grief, your love and support can be a source of comfort to them. In this blog, we’ll explain the stages of grief and highlight the complexity of loss. We’ll also give ideas on how personalized memorial gifts can play a role in healing. 

Understanding the Stages of Grief

It is generally understood that there are five stages of grief that people experience after a loss. It can be helpful for you to understand these stages as a friend to help support and care for the grieving individual. The 5 Stages of Grief theory was developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Keep in mind, not everyone will walk through each stage in a certain order and some may linger in one stage longer than others or bounce back and forth. The best piece of advice someone gave me after we lost our second son at full term was that “Grief has no timeline.” Just because it’s been X number of days, weeks, or even months, doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to still grieve in a certain way. Be patient with your friend at each stage and know the denial stage may need something different than the depression stage. 

Sympathy vs. Empathy in Gifting

In our society, we sometimes use “sympathy” and “empathy” interchangeably but professionals note these two responses are very different. To really understand the difference, take a few minutes and read this article from Psychiatric Medical Care. Basically, sympathy involves understanding someone’s emotions but from our own perspective. Empathy includes feeling their emotions from their perspective. Those two emotions can play unique roles in gift giving after a loss. Sympathy is based on a more loose connection. That could mean a work colleague or distant acquaintance. Thoughtful sympathy gifts could be as simple as a personalized sympathy card. After our loss, we received dozens of condolence cards and each of them were meaningful. Even just a few words of written support showed us how loved we were from people we barely interacted with or saw often. Custom sympathy cards like these from Snapfish would be very creative and show intentionality and thoughtfulness from the giver. 

Shifting to empathetic personalized remembrance gifts, take a moment to think through the relationship between the person grieving and the person they lost. What special connections did they share? What personal details do you know that could help you create a special personalized sympathy gift? Did your friend lose a beloved pet? Consider a laurelbox pet memorial candle or this unique paint-by-numbers kit for the pet’s picture. Not only would that be thoughtful but also therapeutic! If you are trying to support your mom or dad who recently lost a parent, take a look at these beautiful keepsake dishes from Uncommon Goods that turn cherished family photos into tiny mementos with a vintage vibe. Don’t be overwhelmed by the options available. Just spend a couple minutes thinking about *who* your friend is, and what *they* might like most. That’s the key to tailoring empathetic gifts to suit individual needs. 

Personalized Gift Ideas for Each Stage

You can even take it a step further and think about which stage of grief your loved one might be in and send a customized memorial gift based on that. Some ideas include:


gentle reminder keepsakes or personalized picture frames


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$ 132.00

In Memory of Mom

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$ 74.00


stress-relief kits or personalized journals for working through emotions

Be Still Shower Steamers

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$ 18.00

Leather Journal

Leather Journal


customized self-care packages or meaningful symbolic jewelry

Birth Flower Candle

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$ 42.00

Self Care Box

Self Care


comforting blankets or pillows or thoughtful subscription services

Weighted Blanket

Luna Blanket

One Day at a time herbal tea

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$ 16.00


customized remembrance candle or experience-based garden gifts

Celebration of life candle

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$ 36.00

In the Garden

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$ 58.00

How to Choose the Right Personalized Gift

As I mentioned, think about specific attributes of your friend. How do they feel love and how do they show love in return? If that doesn’t make sense to you, check out the five languages of love explained. Listening and observing can go a long way. What have they mentioned they’ll miss most about their loved one? Think through their preferences and needs as well. Gifts like meal delivery, house cleaning or yard maintenance are thoughtful ways to care for grieving individuals. Whatever you end up choosing, just make sure you do something. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be thoughtful. 

DIY Personalized Gifting Ideas

Don’t feel like you have to purchase a personalized memorial gift; handmade crafts and memorial keepsakes make wonderful gifts. If you are relatively crafty, consider sewing a quilt for your loved one that includes t-shirts from the deceased. If your friend always loved her late mother’s Banana Bread recipe, take the recipe and create a shadow box with a measuring spoon from her kitchen and a piece of her favorite apron and a picture of the two of them baking together. Customized letters or poetry can be a beautiful way to honor a life. This Etsy seller will take a letter and transfer it to laser engraved acrylic so it can be preserved for always. Incredible! 

Another DIY custom memorial gift is to create a memory book or scrapbook. These don’t have to be expensive, they just take time. My stepfather spent the last half of 2016 battling prostate cancer that would eventually take his life. During his final weeks, my sister and I compiled pictures from our mom and his children to create a memory book that he could look at when his weakened state forced him to stay in bed. Not only was that a special keepsake he got to enjoy while alive, but now our mother can look through the book and remember the man he was and the special times they shared. 

DIY photo albums are incredibly thoughtful and can become cherished keepsake memorial photo gifts for years to come. This one I helped make for my stepdad weeks before he passed away. It remains a memorial keepsake for my mom. 

Additional Resources and Support

Don’t be afraid to “gift outside the box.” Offer to cover some costs associated with support groups or counseling services or find online communities and forums and share a list with your grieving loved one. Be an empathic friend and a listening ear. Remember not to try and “fix” your friend’s grief. One extra note, if children in your life are grieving, check out these sweet gifts that speak directly to little ones and loss.


We hope this sympathy and empathy gift roundup was helpful and for additional resources check out my July blog on why personalization matters. Personalized remembrance gifts can go a long way in offering support and encouragement to those grieving. Remember the differences in sympathy and empathy and let those differences guide your gifting. Put yourself in your friend’s shoes and think through what could be nurturing for their specific loss in this season or this stage of their grief. However, don’t overthink it and avoid sending anything at all. It really is the thought that counts! 


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.

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