What Is Proper to Send to a Family After the Death of a Loved One?

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Watching a family grieve over the loss of a loved one can be painful for everyone involved. You may also find yourself struggling to figure out how to send your condolences during this difficult time. While gift-giving is a customary practice, knowing what to send can help you provide comfort and avoid an unintentional insult.

Writing Sympathy

A sympathy card or letter is among the most common items sent to a grieving family, sometimes accompanied by another gift. Most written condolences will include mention of your sadness over the death as well as any positive memories or attributes of the deceased that you would like to include, according to the Emily Post Institute. A sample letter might read, "We were saddened to hear about Tim's death. He was a kind and devoted friend to our son. You are in our thoughts." Notes can be as brief as a single sentence if words are difficult to come by during this time.

Sending Donations

Sometimes, a family will mention in the deceased's obituary or by word-of-mouth that they would like mourners to make contributions to charities instead of bringing flowers, according to the Emily Post Institute. You can also choose to make a contribution to a charity that you feel represents the deceased's interests. In a sympathy note or letter, you can indicate the charity that received your donation -- though it is not necessary to mention the amount. While money is generally not given to the bereaved family, it can be an acceptable gift if the family is known to be having financial difficulties.

Flowers and Gift Baskets

Flowers are among the more popular gift choices for bereaved families, and are often used to decorate the funeral home, casket or grave site, according to Everplans. Others may choose to send flowers to the bereaved family's home. Gift baskets filled with edible items, like cookies and crackers, or filled with supplies like eye drops or tissue can also be useful at the grieving family's home or at a funeral home.

Other Considerations

Ideally, gifts should be sent as soon after the death as possible. If giving a sympathy gift is not possible, there are also other ways to assist a grieving family. Specific offers of help in your sympathy card, like offering to baby-sit the grieving family's young children during the funeral, can be helpful, according to the Emily Post Institute. As families often send thank you cards after a funeral, you can write in your card that your gift does not need to be acknowledged by the family.