Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or at least that’s what my holiday playlist told me on my way to work this morning.
But the truth is, I’m not feeling so festive — because unfortunately, grief doesn’t take a holiday. It loves to barge in at the most inopportune moments, too. When I realized this would be the first holiday since one of my closest friends passed away, the song “Christmas Without You” (I love Dolly Parton, what can I say?) took on a whole new meaning.
I’ve become something of an expert at discreetly crying on trains, though, so that’s good at least.
I know I’m not alone. Many of us will be spending our first holiday season without someone we love. For others, it isn’t the first year, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
With so many old traditions and photo albums being pulled down from the shelf, that “most wonderful time” can start to weigh heavily on those of us who can’t help but notice that someone is missing.
If a loved one is grieving this season, a thoughtful gift can mean a lot. But how do you know what to give to someone who’s experienced a loss? This list of 11 gifts is a good place to start.
1. Thoughtful letters they’ll treasure forever
In my experience, the most difficult part of grieving wasn’t the immediate aftermath. It was weeks and months out, when everyone else seemed to move on and I was still struggling to cope alone.
That’s why a gift that keeps you connected to your loved one is so special. This book, “Letters to My Friend: Write Now. Read Later. Treasure Forever,” includes printed letters, prompts, and envelopes to encourage you to reach out throughout the year and beyond.
Each one includes a time to open the letter (whether it’s next week or five years from now), allowing them to act as time capsules — future reminders that while grief is persistent, the connection you share is, too.
2. A meaningful book that says ‘I see you’
One essential read for those working through grief is “It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.”
Written by a therapist and loss survivor, this book is a deeply affirming look at how our society treats grief as something to be “fixed,” rather than validating it as a completely sane response to loss.
Learning to live alongside grief (rather than pushing it away) is a meaningful lesson and one this book offers in spades.
If you’re nervous that your loved one isn’t ready for a book like this, you can always include a note, assuring them to read it at their own pace — no matter how far in the future that might be.
3. A sweet care package to encourage a little self-love
One of my favorite things someone sent along to me when I was grieving was soap. Yes, soap.
But it wasn’t just your typical ivory bar. This bar of soap was luxurious, smelling of fig and flower, offering me a little sweetness after impossibly long days. It also motivated me to take a shower on those days when I didn’t want to leave my bed in the first place.
The cosmetic company LUSH is a favorite of mine, and their Honey care package is absolute bliss. It includes their popular toffee-scented soap, “Honey I Washed the Kids,” along with their honey-inspired body butter and shower gel. You’ll also get their mint-honey lip balm, “Honey Trap,” all in a gorgeous honeycomb package.
For something even more affordable, there’s also LUSH’s little box of slumbers with soothing, lavender-scented goodies to add a little calm to any before-bed routine.
4. An alarm that mimics a natural sunrise and sunset
As I was grieving, my sleep schedule became completely disrupted. We now know that complicated grief has a lot of overlap with depression, so it’s no surprise that many people who are grieving may notice their typical routine is thrown after a devastating loss.
That’s why this sunrise alarm clock is an unexpected but great gift for a grieving loved one. It uses light as well as soothing sounds to ease users into sleep and wakefulness by imitating a sunrise and sunset. Rather than being jolted awake by a blaring alarm, this allows for something more gradual and less jarring — which is ideal for someone who’s already in a heightened emotional state.
5. A dried flower keepsake necklace
For something a little more personal, these keepsake necklaces that contain dried flowers are priceless. While the necklace could encase flowers that were saved from an occasion — a wedding, memorial, or vow renewal — it could also hold a loved one’s favorite flower, or a symbolic flower.
Whatever you choose to go inside, it’s a unique treasure your loved one is sure to cherish.
6. A morning cup of coffee with a powerful reminder
Sometimes the simplest things can make the best gifts. This beautiful mug reads “Grow through what you go through,” and it’s a powerful statement on how painful experiences can still be transformative, too.
If you’re feeling really generous, you can pair it with this collection of Godiva coffee, which includes beloved flavors like chocolate truffle, caramel, and hazelnut creme.
7. A little help with groceries goes a long way
If the loss is particularly recent, your loved one might be struggling with the basics. An offer to grocery shop for them, drive them to the store, or a membership to an online grocery delivery service can be immensely helpful for someone who’s finding life to be unmanageable as they grieve.
When in doubt, an Amazon Fresh gift card can be a blessing for someone who’s struggling to keep their head above water.
8. The coziest blanket possible
It’s rare that you see a five-star rating for much of anything online, but this ridiculously plush Genteele throw is beloved by hundreds of internet reviewers, with claims that it’s the best and coziest you’ll find.
Grieving folks will no doubt appreciate the gift of a soft cocoon to retreat into.
9. A beautiful memoir from someone who gets it
The enormity of grief can be difficult to put into words. While my loss was painful, it also gave me a renewed sense of purpose and entirely different perspective. I experienced the fullest spectrum of emotions I’d ever known — everything from despair to serenity, sometimes all at once.
A powerful part of my coping was talking to other survivors who’d similarly been transformed by their grief. We don’t always have access to those shared stories, though.
That’s why memoirs like “The Long Goodbye” by Meghan O’Rourke are so important: They give survivors access to the words they might not be able to articulate on their own yet. Giving the gift of affirmation can be a priceless way of letting a survivor know they aren’t alone.
10. A helping hand never hurts, either
Four words that meant the world to me in the aftermath of loss: “How can I help?”
Maybe it seems a little weird to ask, seeing as gifts are “supposed” to be a surprise. But when it comes to grief, an offer to wash dishes, pick up prescriptions, or run to the store made a huge difference in my ability to keep going, especially in moments when I felt defeated.
You can also get crafty, creating “favor coupons” your loved one can use when they need to call on you. It might not be a flashy or exciting gift on the surface, but it can make a tremendous difference.
11. A donation to a cause they care about
When I lost my friend to suicide, many people donated to suicide awareness organizations in their honor as a show of support for me. I was overcome by the gesture. To know they wanted the world to be a better place so others didn’t have to endure the tragedy I was living moved me beyond words.
I love the idea of a donation as a holiday gift, and for those of us who have lost our loved ones to tragic circumstances, this show of solidarity can be a really special gift. Just remember to use a platform like Charity Navigator to research the best way to give, or look for smaller, local organizations that could benefit most from your support.
Sam Dylan Finch is a leading advocate in LGBTQ+ mental health, having gained international recognition for his blog, Let’s Queer Things Up!, which first went viral in 2014. As a journalist and media strategist, Sam has published extensively on topics like mental health, transgender identity, disability, politics and law, and much more. Bringing his combined expertise in public health and digital media, Sam currently works as social editor at Healthline.