What Is a Proper Condolence Gift?

After hearing of someone's tragic loss, it's only proper to try and make them feel better with a gift. But how can you be sure to strike the right chord of sympathy? Follow Modern Manners Guy’s 3 tips for proper condolence gifts.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #224

When a friend or family member loses someone special to them, it’s always tough to know how to react. I often get emails from Modern Manners Guy readers and listeners about this very issue.

People wonder: “What should I say?” “What should I do?” “Do I call them every day and see how they're doing or do I give them space?”

See also: What to Say When Someone Dies?

The stress of not knowing what to do can be overwhelming. And after you do talk to them, how do you choose a condolence gift that shows the appropriate level of feeling and empathy? This, my friends, is a very challenging thing and something that everyone has probably struck out on at least once.

The last thing you want to do in someone’s time of mourning is to have to remove your foot from your mouth after handing them an inappropriate condolence gift. Sometimes it's not your fault. You tried!

So before you head out to the mall to pick out the perfect gift that says "I care" without saying, "I have no idea what I'm doing," check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for proper condolence gift-giving.

  1. Give the right gift
  2. The card's the thing
  3. Everyone needs to eat

Tip #1: The Improper Gift

The old saying of K.I.S.S. (or Keep It Simple, Stupid) never means more than in the case of a condolence gift. 

For example, a friend of mine was dating a girl for about two months when her grandmother passed away. He had never met her grandmother but had met other members of the family. He attended the funeral, visited her house, offered his assistance, and did all the good kinda-sorta-boyfriend-type things any decent person should do. However, he felt the bizarre need to give this girl a great gift that really showed his heart was in it. After all, he told me, he'd spent the past couple of months trying to win her over with over-the-top dinners and even a fancy weekend away.

So instead of doing something subtle and simple, my friend bought his girl a pricey Keurig coffee maker. Great gift, yes…for a wedding! Not for the death of someone's grandmother. He told me that she always wanted one and he was planning to get her one anyway, so now was as good a time as any, right? I mean, who wouldn't want a $200 brewing system? I have one and I love it! (And you know how much I love my coffee!) Sadly, the ability to make a perfect cup of coffee in under 15 seconds does not cure heartbreak over the death of a loved one. Who da thunk it?

I'm not saying his gift wasn't a good one, it just had terrible timing. For starters, you never use your A-Game gift for someone when they are grieving. If they're preoccupied with something as life-changing as the death of a beloved relative, you lose all those points you were trying to earn because that person's mind is elsewhere. And understandably so. When my friend delivered the gift, the girl was very happy with it and thought it was incredibly kind. However, it went unopened for two weeks. Two weeks! Are you kidding me? When I got my Keurig, I tore open the box in the car on the way home.

Here is an instance of good intentions not working out well. What the girl needed at the time was for her guy to simply be there for her (as he was) and help out with whatever she or her family needed. He did not have to buy her affection. She wasn't looking for that. A condolence gift is not a time to pull out that ace in your pocket. Stick to something simple like a card, flowers, food, or better yet just your friendship and time.