It’s a funeral… Should I bring a gift?
In the last few years there has been an increased emphasis on “celebrating” a funeral, designating most gatherings as “celebrations of life.” As with other life rituals that mark rites of passage such as birth, adolescence or marriage, death is an occasion for gift-giving. Sending flowers, dropping a meal off at the home of the bereaved, having a mass said in honor of the deceased, making a charitable donation in the name of the deceased, and even crowdfunding a funeral, are just some examples of bereavement gifts. Unlike a birthday or anniversary party in which a gift is expected, funeral gift-giving is a spontaneous expression of compassion.
Recently during calling hours, I witnessed the kindest expression of sympathy I have ever seen. The funeral was for a woman who left behind a special needs daughter. A number of people brought the daughter gifts, most were stuffed animals placed lovingly in gift bags with a card expressing sympathy and love. I don’t know if the gift bearers connected and agreed to do this or if they simultaneously had the same good idea; I do know the impact was powerful. Throughout the evening, as periodic overwhelming grief surfaced and the moment seemed too much for her, another gift was given to the daughter to soothe her.
Most gifts given during a loss are things adults appreciate, but have little meaning for children. It’s good to recognize when a child loses a member of the family, or even a close friend, just as with adults, a gift can lift their spirits and support them through the tough moments. A particularly difficult loss for a child is a grandparent. How wonderful it would be if family members gift wrapped something that belonged to the grandparent and gave it to the grandchild. Not only is it a good way to address the loss, but it is a concrete reminder to the child of the love they shared with their grandparent. The same principle applies if a parent, aunt or other significant person passes.
Since experiencing the effect of those precious gifts on this young woman as she bravely endured her mother’s wake, I am committed to a new act of kindness. Whenever there are children intimately connected to a loss, especially if it is a parent or sibling, whether they are at the funeral or not, I am going to bring a gift for them.
Gifts make children feel good, helping them feel loved and remembered, most importantly they recognize they are not alone. Just as a mass card, meal or a charitable donation makes an adult feel loved, so too will a teddy bear to a grieving child. It’s pretty simple: the best antidote for grief is love, don’t be afraid to show it.