There’s a gift for every occasion, even somber ones like death. But when it comes to shopping for a person who’s grappling with a recent loss, your gut might tell you to buy something that helps them forget the pain. That isn’t necessary, says Kathryn Shear, the founding director of Columbia University’s Center for Complicated Grief. Such gestures can even be detrimental to the healing process. “The one thing we know about grief is that it’s permanent. The past is always with us, and it’s not a negative thing to hold onto it.”
Instead, Shear recommends finding objects that nudge the person to think of the one(s) they’ve lost in a comforting way. “It’s a really great thing to consider when purchasing presents,” she says. “Anything you can do to honor the dead helps.” As long as you have a close relationship to the griever and know their preferences well, a thoughtful, sentimental gift could bring the bittersweet joy they need right now.
Something they can “flip” through
When was the last time you held a photo album? With smartphones and digital cameras, the plastic-covered scrapbooks have become less common and practical—but the effect is still wonderful. You can recreate the magic with a touch-screen picture frame that scrolls through images automatically or lets the user flip through them with a finger. Pre-fill it with a few candids to get the trip down memory lane started.
Something they can hold
Coming home with a dear one’s remains stuffed in a piece of pottery can feel cold and awkward. Where do you put them? How do you mourn with them? A set of Parting Stones can make the answers to those questions much more straightforward. The New Mexico-based company binds cremated ashes (new or old) into a clay-like material, then bakes them into multi-colored stones that a person can clutch, carry around in their pocket, or arrange in a garden. The process takes a minimum of six weeks, plus you’ll need to ship in the remains, so make sure to plan ahead and ask for permission.
Something they can draw warmth from
People have been lighting candles during vigils, funerals, and other somber ceremonies since the times of the ancient Egyptians. While each culture and religion has its own reasons for the practice, the overall sentiment is the same. Candles bring light, warmth, and room for contemplation, and their scents can be emotionally evocative. In fact, smell is a powerful tool for memory; we often search for it in a person’s belongings long after they leave or pass away. A simple candle-making kit lets you add your own fragrances, so you can get closer to the ones you miss by mimicking their favorite perfume or a place where you spent time together.
Something they can share
For people who are struggling to communicate their feelings, writing letters can be a form of therapy. A bright box of postcards might help a mourner open up about their grief, even when they feel disconnected from everyone around them. Choose a theme that suits their aesthetic, whether it be ethereal, botanical, or heroic. And while you’re at it, pick up a book of postcard stamps and support USPS.
Something they can hear
Music is a beautiful way to memorialize the deceased, but unless you’re an avid composer, you might not want to risk crafting a clumsy ode. Songfinch makes the process as easy as possible. All you need to do is jot down a few memories and details about the person who’s passed on, choose a style, sound, and artist, and wait seven days for a rough cut to be emailed to you. Each song runs about three minutes long, and you can tack on more verses and make edits for an extra free.
Something they can unwind with
There’s a reason why so many old Hollywood movies romanticized music boxes. It’s a clever piece of engineering that wraps a ton of soothing elements—music, spinning gears, mechanical feedback—in one palm-sized memento. You’ll want to pick a song that serves up a pang of nostalgia (Moon River? Harry Potter? Princess Mononoke?), but also one that recipients won’t get sick of too quickly. And of course, you can personalize it to make it more of a remembrance piece with photos, initials, locks of hair, and so on.
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