I have been invited to a ceremonial stone unveiling that I will not be able to attend. I would like to acknowledge the event in some way, but I am not familiar with the acceptable customs and do not want to offend the family in any way. Is it appropriate to send a card or a gift of some kind to the family to acknowledge the event?
While gifts are not customary, a card would be very nice. Further, there is also the custom of giving charity in memory of a person who died. Making a donation to a charitable organization in memory of the deceased is a very nice way to acknowledge the event and honor the memory of the person who died. I would recommend this wither in addition to, or instead of, a card.
Your instinct is good, but not quite on target. An unveiling does not call for a gift, and unlike the period of Shiva (the time of the gathering of the mourners, and attendance on them by visitors/comforters) the sending or bringing of food (or other gifts) is not expected or really appropriate.
An acknowledgment is what is called for: a card, or even better, a personal note, acknowledging the event (and thereby the reason for it), and perhaps expressing regret that you cannot attend, would be both appreciated and very appropriate.
In the same vein, if you were to make a charitable donation in memory of the deceased, with an acknowledgment sent to the family by the recipient organization, that would be a quite appropriate action. It might perhaps be even better if it were a donation to a charitable cause named or supported by the deceased or the family at the time of the death, or somehow directly related to the deceased and/or family (for example, a donation to the American Diabetes Association for someone who died of complications from diabetes, or to the congregation to which the deceased belonged and where they served as an officer, or to an organization which family members actively support).
The important thing here is the acknowledgment, letting the family know that you are aware of this milestone event in their life, and ideally, that you are sensitive to their feelings as they are moving through the process of grieving their loss.
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