Sympathy gifts. Last weekend I went looking for a sympathy gift. I’m lucky; I don’t often have to come up with sympathy gift ideas. I live neither in a war zone nor a ground zero of disease. So, happily I muddle along, concerned with the living, and not thinking about what to do when someone dies. Not thinking about sympathy gifts.

But Saturday, I had to. I would see my friend for the first time after her dad’s funeral. A card just wouldn’t do it. In honesty, no sympathy gift would do it either. But, on this occasion, I wanted to give more than words.

When my mother died, this friend gave me a beautiful flowering plant. I cherished it. For me, the avid gardener who loves to celebrate all forms of life, a plant was a living reminder that no matter who dies, life itself keeps blooming. And I made that plant keep blooming. Lots of fertilizer. But eventually, a couple of years later, one by one the plant’s leaves gradually dropped off. Stick by stick withered, until the whole plant, now occupying a very large pot in my living room, was nothing but a statue of upward-reaching sticks. Time to let go. Time to pitch the plant.

But I didn’t want to give my friend her own plant. I thought that would be a kind of weird reciprocity. Besides, our mutual friend was giving her an orchid. So what sympathy gift could I give? Following are ideas about sympathy gifts and helping people who grieve.

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