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Sympathy Etiquette

The death of a family member or close friend is one of life’s most painful experiences.  Those in mourning need support and most of us are anxious to find some way to comfort them.  Knowing how to comfort those left behind can be a challenge. As difficult as it is to know what to say, sending funeral flowers can be even more perplexing. What is appropriate to memorialize relatives, or people to whom you are not related? How about those you've not personally met, such as the spouse of a coworker?  Societal norms and traditions have evolved over time. Along with shifting rules of etiquette, the sheer availability of flowers has changed, broadened. In addition to traditional designs, mourners now appreciate the freedom to request arrangements that are less common, perhaps more dramatic or personalized.  Another marked change is the rising number of cremations and celebrations of life.   Often, when cremation has taken place, a decision is made to forego formal memorial services. Perhaps a small gathering at the home of the bereaved will be planned instead, or there may be none. In any case, the absence of a funeral service should not be viewed as a reason to neglect a show of sympathy.

Here are some common sympathy floral questions…

Is it okay to send flowers to the family's home? If so, when is it appropriate to send them?

Certainly. This is a great way to express your sympathy and it is very common. Some people choose to send flowers to the home immediately while others prefer to wait a week or more. There are no rules.

Is it Acceptable to Send Flowers if the Death Notice Requests a Charitable Donation, "In Lieu of Flowers"?

Yes. Flowers at the funeral service not only add warmth and life to a somber event, they are a tangible tribute. They let the bereaved know, visibly, how much their loved one touched the lives of others. It is important that each giver make their own choice and many people are choosing to send a floral remembrance to the service or family home as well as a donation to the charity indicated. While a monetary donation is a worthy tribute, there is really no substitute for beautiful flowers at a sympathy service. They comfort the living as they commemorate the lives of the deceased.

What is appropriate to send for a cremation or celebration of life?

Almost anything that is appropriate for a normal funeral service can also be sent for a cremation service including fresh cut flowers in a vase, potted plants and standing easel sprays.

Is it appropriate to send a plant to the funeral home? If so, will the funeral home send it to the family after the service?

Yes, the funeral director will notify the family members that they may take the plants with them after the service.

Can I Send Flowers in a Glass Vase to a Funeral Home?

From an etiquette standpoint, this is absolutely acceptable. However, some funeral homes have rules about certain types of arrangements. For example, graveside services may be a problem as most cemeteries do not allow glass containers. If the arrangement you would like to send is anything outside the realm of traditional sympathy floral designs, you should consult the funeral home concerning their policy on such arrangements before ordering.

I just heard the sad news… Is it too late to send sympathy flowers?

It’s never too late to show you care. Some people choose to send flowers a week or so after the funeral when the initial chaos has passed. No matter how much time has passed, the gesture of sending flowers reminds the bereaved that you have not forgotten them and you are still thinking of them and their loss.

Are There Special Considerations When Sending Flowers as a Group?

Sending flowers as a group can be a very good idea. When mourners pool their financial resources for one arrangement, it can be that much more special, and will have a much greater impact. Gift cards are large enough to hold a number of names. However, if the list of names is very long, you may choose to identify yourselves by family, group, or department if coworkers. In either case, you should supply one contact name and address so that the family can send thanks.

Is it Okay to Send Brightly-Colored Flowers for a Funeral?

Certainly. Bright flowers can reflect on the energetic personality of the deceased. They may be chosen to send a message about how we felt about that person - that, in life, they gladdened our hearts and made us feel happy to have known them. Bright Colors or bright monotone arrangements tend to stand out in the soft lighting of funeral homes.


Depending on your relationship with the deceased there are some traditions regarding the choice of a sympathy gift.

Members of the Immediate Family:

Although the immediate family may choose any type of floral tribute. Typically casket covers, matching urn arrangements and swags inside the casket lid are reserved for the immediate family. Should you wish to send an arrangement of this type, be sure to ask the family first. Keep in mind that flowers from immediate family are typically placed closest to the casket during the viewing or wake. In some cases they may be inside the casket with the deceased.

Extended Family Members:

Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and even close friends have a wide range of options. The traditional standing spray is often chosen for the most impact. Informal arrangements are good options because they can go home with the immediate family or taken to the cemetery.

Family Friends:

Some of the best floral arrangements for friends to send include standing sprays, wreaths, basket arrangements, bouquets in vases, and live plants that can go home with the family after the funeral. Friends have the option of sending the flowers directly to the funeral home or to the home of the family member. Keep in mind wreaths, standing sprays, and flowers in disposable containers are designed for funeral home display.

Business Associates:

It is also appropriate for business associates to have the flowers delivered to the office of the family member. When ordering flowers to be sent to someone’s home or office, you may want to choose a vase or basket that can be used later. Again, wreaths, standing sprays, and flowers in disposable containers are designed for funeral home display.