"Right after my neighbor’s wedding, I made a mini-album of the photos I took. The next morning, I gave the newlyweds the first pictures of their nuptials. One caught them hand in hand on the beach. They loved it." ―Marcia Blackwell, 44, Long Branch, New Jersey
Pack up a small cooler of Champagne and leftover wedding cake so the couple can enjoy what they probably missed the night before.
"The journal I received at my baby shower meant the world to me. Each guest wrote two pieces of advice: one to me on being my son's mother and another to my son on having me as a mother. It was a hilarious and touching gift to me (and my son!)." ―Rebecca Sample Gerstung, 33, Chicago
Gather newspapers with the baby's birth date, and some current magazines, and make a time capsule for when he gets older.
A new mom hardly has time to shower. Drop by before you start your day and watch the baby while mom cleans up―15 minutes is all she needs.
"When I give a gift to a graduate, I include a 'To Whom It May Concern' letter―a recommendation the grad can use when needing a reference." ―Robyn Spizman, 54, Atlanta
Dig up one of your graduate's grammar-school report cards and include it inside a card. It will be fun to see how far she has come. (Plus, she can see if critiques like "Talks out of turn" still apply.)
Call a pizzeria or burger joint in the high school graduate's new college town and prepay a tab or buy a gift card.
“When I was having a difficult few months trying to get pregnant, a friend sent me gift certificates to my favorite ice cream shop. Once, she even sent me the exact change to buy a pint―she called the store to find out how much it cost. Turns out, that ice cream was just what the doctor ordered.” ―Briar Sauro, 32, Brooklyn
Instead of toting flowers or balloons to a hospital-bound friend, offer a pair of comfy pj’s or cozy socks.
Bring a blanket to someone who’s in the hospital. (Patients often feel chilled.) When she is discharged, present her with a new blanket to use at home―it will feel like a fresh start.
A Death in the Family
“After my father passed away, a good family friend gave my mother, my sister, and me a bottle of his cologne. My father was impeccably dressed, but he wore this cologne called Clubman, which sold for about $4 at the drugstore. The cologne and the accompanying note were so touching. I believe it read, ‘Your father was a wonderful man. He was my club man.’” ―Amanda Armstrong, 25, New York City
Mow the lawn or shovel snow for a friend who’s grieving. It will be one less thing for her to think about.
When you’re greeting a suffering friend at a funeral or a wake, press into her hand a pack of tissues, lip balm, and mints. The tissues will dry her tears, and the lip balm and mints will help her handle all those kisses.
“After I had a horrible breakup, a few girlfriends rented some movies that didn’t have happy endings and ambushed me with popcorn, candy, and hugs. Seeing films where the girl doesn’t get the guy was a welcome distraction. Who wants to watch a couple ride off into the sunset when your heart has just been broken? Not me.” ―Brooke Oakley, 26, Atlanta
Offer to be the default “plus one” for a recently divorced friend. Surviving events that are full of couples can be easier when she’s on someone’s arm.
Spend the night at your friend’s place―or let her stay at yours.
“Whenever my husband and I have a dinner guest who brings a bottle of wine, we write her name and number on the label. If we don’t get around to drinking it that night, I’ll call when I finally find time to pour a glass. I get to say an impromptu thanks for her thoughtfulness, let her know I’ve enjoyed her gift, and catch up with my friend all at the same time.” ―Marnie Barnhorst, 59, La Jolla, California
Are you the one being “showered”? Think about sending flowers to the host of your party a few days before the event.
Express support and congratulations for a particular goal (conquering a fear of flying, quitting smoking, running a marathon) by sending a card with something small that relates to her accomplishment, such as an airline-size bag of peanuts, a pack of minty-fresh gum, or an energy bar.
When a coworker is moving on, do something to continue a tradition you shared. If, say, 4 p.m. was your designated vending-machine break, send a pack of candy in an envelope with the instructions “Do not open until 4 p.m.”
“When my two daughters were little, I would dress them up for Halloween, take them to our local nursing home, and have them hand out candy. It taught my girls that we’re responsible for creating a society in which we want to live―one where people don’t get neglected just because they’ve reached a certain age.” ―Deborah Welsh, 56, Portage, Michigan
Next time you find yourself in front of a single-purchase customer, don’t just offer to let her hop ahead of you. Ask the cashier to ring up that quart of milk or orange juice with your purchase and make the shopper’s day.
Taking care of someone else’s children for the day? Snap photos of the kids playing and goofing around. Show them to Mom and Dad later, or send them using your cell phone.