14 Gift Ideas for Terminally Ill Loved Ones
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When time is limited, the most treasured gift is your presence. But, these gifts could also help your loved one feel cherished and comforted, while some will also help you create precious memories together.
How to give a thoughtful gift
Buying birthday or holiday gifts for a dying loved one can be emotionally overwhelming and even confusing, as you try to consider how they’ll receive your intention. The process might feel heavy with anticipatory grief, urgency, and even guilt or obligation. Tara Simpson, a palliative care nurse practitioner at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, offers this guiding principle: Focus on presence over presents.
Geriatric specialist Jeffrey Landsman, MD, of Mercy Medical Center, adds that visiting someone who’s dying is “the biggest thing you could do” for them. Whether you visit face-to-face or schedule a Zoom call from far away, that time together can be priceless.
Still, thoughtful holiday and birthday gifts can bring joy and comfort. Gifts might also remind the sick person that they’re remembered, even if they’re spending a good bit of time resting or otherwise away from others.
We spoke to medical professionals who care for aging or terminally ill patients to give you a range of gift ideas. Together, we curated the following gift guide and organized it into three categories: gifts for physical comfort, emotional comfort, and legacy.
Gifts of physical comfort
If you’re searching for a gift to buy, consider one that could inspire a way for you to interact with your loved one, according to Megan O’Neil, an oncology nurse practitioner at Banner MD Anderson in Sun City, Arizona. Lotion is useful for a hand or foot massage. Pretty hair ties might be perfect for a moment together as you braid the patient’s hair. “These types of items give family and friends a way to interact with the person. End of life can be scary for family and friends too, [and] this gives them a way to support and be present,” O’Neil says.
Here are some comforting options.
FRALOSHA Fuzzy Warm Slipper Socks
These winter-themed fuzzy slip-ons are a cross between a sock and a slipper. The cozy interior will keep loved ones’ toes warm, while the silicone grips will help prevent slips and falls.
Anything that helps your loved one feel seen and loved is key. So if they would prefer a different style or pattern, go for it! We love how these slipper socks are both safe and cozy.
The Yellow Bird All Natural Foot Cream
Terminal illnesses often usher in a slew of uncomfortable symptoms—some that can be relieved with just a little TLC. A light foot massage with rich or even aromatic foot cream can offer relaxation, as well as an opportunity for the two of you to experience an intimate emotional connection.
This particular foot cream is cruelty-free and made with soothing ingredients such as tea tree, eucalyptus, and shea butter. If your gift recipient is sensitive to fragrances, opt for Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair instead.
NuLeaf Full Spectrum Hemp CBD Oil
$30 and up
Some terminally ill patients struggle to sleep deeply, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the hospital environment is noisy and disruptive. Other times, discomfort, pain, and side effects from medications make it impossible to get eight hours of shut-eye.
NuLeaf is a well-respected CBD brand. Independent labs test these products. They are also free of pesticides, fungi, or heavy metals. This full-spectrum hemp CBD oil is available in a variety of strengths.
Note: Everyone—especially those taking prescription medications—should check with their physician before taking a CBD product.
Check out our CBD Guide for everything you need to know about safety, legality, and efficacy.
Personalized Throw Blanket
$20 and up
“A blanket provides warmth and comfort … and can also be kept as a keepsake for loved ones,” Simpson says. Giving a blanket as a gift can be like sharing a hug, even when you can’t be right there in person.
This photo-printed blanket takes that affection to the next level. It’s available in 10 colors, eight sizes, and ranges of one to nine photos. Reviewers say the print quality is crisp, and the blanket itself is cozy and fuzzy, but not overly warm.
If you want to get creative, O’Neil suggests making a blanket by quilting together T-shirts from the recipient’s friends and family members. Many patients also enjoy a heated blanket, according to Jennifer Prescott, a former hospice nurse and the founder of Blue Water Homecare in Leander, Texas.
Tea or coffee sampler
$25 and $29
Some terminal illnesses trigger nausea or loss of appetite. But if your ailing loved one can still enjoy beverages, consider treating them to a sampler of soothing teas or rich coffees.
The Yogi Tea Stress Variety Sampler includes six herbal teas that are 100 percent caffeine-free—so they shouldn’t interfere with the patient’s sleep schedule. Reviewers say the aroma and taste of these teas help their emotions wind down. Some even note that stirring in a bit of honey can soothe sore throats.
The Bean Box Gourmet Coffee Sampler is available in dark roast, medium roast, light roast, decaf, and espresso varieties to suit any coffee drinker’s preferences. Not everyone living with a terminal illness wants caffeine each morning, but some enjoy participating in the ritual while they still can.
(Here are the best gifts for tea lovers in any season of life.)
Gifts of emotional comfort
From encouragement to entertainment, these gifts offer emotional comfort to help your terminally ill loved one enjoy their final season of life.
Aromatherapy Soy Candles for Home
What’s more soothing than the warm glow of a scented candle? “Aromatherapy can have incredible benefits even at the end of life, including decreasing pain, reducing stress, treating headaches, and improving sleep. Essential oils such as lavender, bergamot, peppermint, and sweet orange can be beneficial,” Prescott says.
Note: Check to make sure your loved one isn’t sensitive to scents before purchasing this candle. Fire safety, of course, is also key.
Why wait until a loved one is gone to hear about the beautiful memories they’ve made with friends, co-workers, students, or family members? LifeOnRecord allows your loved one to hear messages from friends and family while they are still living.
Here’s how it works: After purchasing the LifeOnRecord service, you will receive a toll-free phone number, along with a unique invitation code, that you can share with others to leave their own messages for your loved one. Give everyone a deadline to call in, so you can present the collection of messages all at once. Then you can give your loved one a link to listen.
Also, a keepsake speaker to capture the messages permanently is available for an additional $35.
$8+ per month
Many individuals who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness still have time to enjoy their lives—and book lovers know a great story can make life even richer.
For those who are fans of books (as well as music or podcasts), an Audible subscription can be a thoughtful way to help entertain or inspire them while they rest.
Skylight Digital Picture Frame
“This is a great way to have family photos available at the person’s bedside to enjoy,” Prescott says. While there are many digital photo frames on the market, the Skylight is Wi-Fi enabled so family and friends from near and far can send photos directly to the frame.
Each frame comes with a custom email address. When someone emails an image to the frame’s address, it appears instantly on the screen. This helps keep photos on a fresh rotation and invites the sick person to feel part of things as their loved ones’ lives unfold.
Every medical professional we interviewed said photos are one of the best gifts for terminally ill patients. From photo albums that chronicle past vacations to framed bedside photos, these physical mementos can celebrate a life well-lived.
And, consider thinking outside the box. Photos of family members’ faces are great, but so too are photos of favorite places that are no longer feasible for them to visit. (On my dad’s last Christmas, my sister gifted him a framed photo of the view from his old office. He loved his work and deeply missed the sense of purpose it gave him. This thoughtful gift brought tears to his eyes.)
Books about death and dying
Not all terminally ill patients want to talk about the end. But for some, dying becomes a normal topic of conversation. For them, the reality is that their death is inevitable, and sometimes compassionate books or memoirs can be reassuring and affirming of their experience.
For those interested in research or reflection about their final days, here are a few highly rated books to consider:
- A Beginner’s Guide to the End by Dr. BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger
- The Art of Dying Well by Katy Butler
- Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living with Joy by Susan Spencer-Wendel and Bret Witter
- The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
- The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs
Gifts to help them live on
There’s a saying that it is better to give than to receive. When someone is dying, they’re often not in a position to give the kinds of gifts they used to give. Be their hands and feet. Help carry out their wishes. These gifts will ripple forward beyond your loved one’s last breath.
It’s often after someone special has passed when we realize we had so many things we wanted to know about their lives. That’s the premise of Storyworth.
Storyworth sends weekly prompts to the gift recipient, such as “What was your mother like?” or “Tell me a story about your first job.” They can type out the answers themselves, or you can meet each week to type their answers while they dictate. At the end of the year, the stories are bound together in a book.
Storyworth is a combination of quality time and a physical gift. It may be a good option for those who still expect to live for six months or more.
Handwritten cards for loved ones
If you have a close relationship with the person who is dying, offer to help them arrange gifts or tributes that they’d like to share with the people they cared about after they’ve passed. Prescott suggests buying a large pack of cards and offering to write notes for their friends and family as they dictate them to you.
This can be a delicate topic to raise—but if they’re comfortable with the idea, it can be a powerful, long-lasting gift for both the person who is sick and the people they love. “You may also get cards for the special occasions coming up in the lives of their children, such as weddings, graduation, or childbirths,” she says. (For a truly special presentation, organize the cards in a keepsake wooden card box or glass terrarium card box.)
Prescott also suggests discussing when to give these messages to surviving partners or children after the funeral.
Helping someone leave reminders of themselves is a meaningful way to let them know you love them, and that their life matters.
Here are a few gift ideas that might require your assistance:
- Fingerprint Tear Drop Necklace, with a pendant that can be engraved with your loved one’s own fingerprint ($49+)
- Custom Handwriting Sign, printed wall art with a message written in your loved one’s writing ($38+)
- Video or audio recordings for upcoming holidays or milestones
Any of these tokens could help someone you care about know how much you love them, while also bringing beauty to you as you navigate this challenging, but meaningful, time.
- Tara Simpson, CRNP, a palliative care nurse practitioner at Mercy Medical Center
- Jeffrey Landsman, MD, primary care provider and geriatrics specialist at Mercy Medical Center
- Megan O'Neil, DNP, FNP-C, OCN, oncology nurse practitioner at Banner MD Anderson
- Jennifer Prescott, RN, MSN, CDP, former hospice nurse and founder/COO of Blue Water Homecare