When it comes to choosing a gift basket or flower arrangement – how do you decide what to send and which company to use from the thousands of registered on–line gift and basket companies providing this service? Most of you will use a search engine, and I recommend being specific in your search. Organic gifts, diabetic gifts, or loss of a mother, before you type in ‘gift baskets’. I am a supporter of buying local – and in many circumstances I would purchase as close to the recipient as I can by adding their delivery town and zip code. If you choose to have a gift shipped, ALWAYS provide a street address. Only the US Mail service will deliver to a PO Box and most delivery companies use a courier service like UPS and Fedex who will not deliver to a PO Box. Shipping costs vary. Some are purely based on weight, others on the amount of dollars you have spent. Shipping usually accounts for 10-15% of the total cost of the gift.
So, what to send?
Food – when is it applicable to send food? I have often wondered why large gift basket companies propose that you send a basketful of cheese to show your deepest sympathy. In fact this is exactly why I started my company. There absolutely is a time and a place for food. I personally prefer sending platters of fresh sandwiches, or home baked goods to satisfy the many visitors that will descend on a home during the week of a funeral. Google ‘sandwiches, town, state’ (ie sandwiches, Manchester, MA) and you will receive a list of local sandwich producers along with a map. Make a few calls and see what is available. Delivery will be less, and produce will be fresher. For Get Well, be aware of dietary restrictions, such as diabetes, allergies or just loss of appetite.
Flowers – I love flowers, but you can have too much of a good thing. I also consider flowers a gift to be sent from close family at a seriously time. For funerals, unless you are immediate family, respect the request for donations in lieu of flowers. In your sympathy card it is appropriate to include ‘in respecting your request for donations to XXXXX we have sent a donation with love to celebrate XXXX’s life. Alternatively for those who love their gardens, send a perennial plant for the yard purchased locally to make sure the growing zone is correct. Bleeding Hearts, and Lily of the Valley (known as stairway to heaven) are popular and a Rosemary Bush goes back to Egyption days as a plant for remembrance. Rose bushes have quite beautiful names and one of these may be particularly significant to the loss. Again for a local supply Google garden centers, delivery town and state and make a few calls. A perennial is advisable because they come each year and their growth and bloom will always be a comfort. I would add that flowers make a lovely gift on an anniversary following a loss….which the majority of people will forget or miss. Following a loss all holidays are painful so remembering a grieving friend on deceased’s birthday, wedding anniversary, Mother’s Day or death day is most appreciated. Grieving doesn’t go away. “You don’t get over it, you just get through it. You don’t get by it, because you can’t get around it. It doesn’t ‘get better’; it just gets different. Every day…Grief puts on a new face…”Wendy Feireisen
Body products. Increasingly people are becoming more aware of chemicals and strong scents. We often get requests for unscented body products, particularly if someone is sensitive to any smell following chemotherapy. Whatever you chose, we always advise to avoid heavy fruity smells at all times, and choose light fragrances of lavender (aids sleep), rose, cotton, and linen.
Books and music. Most people enjoy the gift of a book or journal. Journal writing has become increasingly popular especially in the process of any type of recovery, and a self help book is always relevant – but read the reviews carefully on Amazon. If a person is not religious be very careful not to send a bible quoting book which would give further offence. Specific books like a book on the loss of a husband, or divorce in middle age can be extremely helpful at a time when going out and shopping may be a struggle. As with all your gifts ask yourself, would this be helpful? A lovely CD is always appreciated. But read the CD description carefully as many of the relaxation CDs are running water and bird noises which might not be appropriate. Gentle Piano music is generally found to be relaxing and appreciated.
Throws and Clothing – My favorite gift is a good quality throw! I always send a mixed blended cotton, so it is easy to wash and dry. I never send wool – because it can be itchy and uncomfortable. A soft throw to cuddle up in will always be appreciated and is rarely thought of. There are several PJ delivery companies and PJs are always appreciated if you send the correct style and size. Following surgery make sure the pjs are always button up front as pulling things over the head and shoulders can be problematic. If in doubt go up a size.
Premade Gift Baskets. Beware of overstuffed, over decorated baskets with little to shout about inside. If you halve the cost of the basket that is what the contents, container and labor cost the company who made it. So you can tell the sort of quality those bath products are. For example a $45 gift basket with 8 body items means the products cost around $2.50 each. We won’t be talking quality ingredients here folks. For me, less and quality is more. Increasingly name brand companies are assembling their own baskets which you can order from their web sites like www.thymes.com
Where should I send my gift? Only flowers to be displayed at the wake or funeral should be sent to a funeral home. All other gifts should be sent to the residential home of the family who have suffered the loss. Most companies let you track your delivery on-line which is a great way of knowing it has been delivered. Do not be offended if you don’t receive a call or note in the next week. Just know that it has been delivered, and your support felt. Families need time to recover and write appreciation notes. They are not under any deadline to get back to you. For an illness I always recommend sending to the home and NOT the hospital. The basket can either be hand carried to the hospital by a visitor or be waiting for them when get home. This is my preference for two reasons. Firstly the address must be very specific and always have a room number to aid a delivery in a hospital, but more importantly discharge dates are often earlier than anticipated. It is a lot of work tracking down a delivery which has been bounced back to ‘receiving’ due to a patient’s discharge, and getting it picked up and redelivered to a new address. Remember, what goes into hospital has to come home from hospital! Balancing one more flower arrangement or gift basket can be frustrating. One further note, if you are planning to visit a friend – slip a pair of clippers in your purse. I always change the water and tidy up the flowers when I visit – because a person in bed can find watching the flowers wilt, and die can be depressing.
Speed vs Accuracy. If you can’t find what you are looking for, I always suggest sending a note asap. This way the person knows that you have heard about their loss or illness and doesn’t feel obliged to track you down and let you know. A carefully worded note can bring great comfort. This gives you a little more time to think about the gift and make arrangements, and perhaps even deliver it yourself. We had a customer who spent two hours on the phone hand picking items for 3 sympathy baskets from 3 different people. She was distraught throughout. Right up until her husband picked them up she was making changes from one to the other. In the confusion the cards were mixed up and she was very upset calling us from the funeral. It wasn’t ideal to panic order that way, Take a breath, and give yourself some time. You also need to be kind to yourself. You have received shocking news about a loss, cancer diagnosis or divorce of a friend, and need some time to process that.
General. Emails are entirely appropriate. But avoid the following temptations: “I know how you feel”, “They are in a better place now”, “my friend had cancer and….”
A supportive email should simply say: I have just heard about….and I want you to know that I love you and am thinking about you. Any offers of support should be a specific as possible “would the children like to come for a playdate on Saturday”, “may I drop off a meal tomorrow”, “I could like to cut your grass on Sunday morning – would that be ok? etc. If you say “let me know if I can do anything’ it might make you feel helpful but it’s doubtful you will be taken up on such a general offer.