Q. My colleague’s elderly mother just died, and a group of us at the office want to send flowers. What is the protocol at such a time? Should flowers go to the funeral home or to the bereaved’s apartment? What types of flowers are best, and what should we say on the accompanying card? We want to show our support in the most appropriate way.

A. Thanks to Hollywood movies, we often think of lilies as traditional funeral flowers. In fact, the most commonly used sympathy blooms are actually gladiolas, carnations and chrysanthemums. But new trends are emerging. “We’re now seeing multi-botanical groupings of garden flowers, such as iris, liatris, alstroemeria and snapdragons. The styles may be monochromatic or multicolored,” says flower industry expert Jeff Corbin, who is based in Radford, VA. He notes that lilies are popular as well.

Flowers are commonly delivered to the funeral home, but it is also appropriate to send them to the home of the bereaved. The best style choice depends on the destination. For example, funeral offerings such as sympathy baskets, wreaths or sprays are ideal to go on to the gravesite. On the other hand, a vase of flowers works when the arrangement will go back to the house afterward or is sent directly to the home.

Choose a “home sympathy styling,” too, for a memorial service or cremation. In these cases, a traditional funeral offering has no place to go. “Don’t send a huge wreath on an easel because there is no trip to a grave site,” says Corbin.

Flowers are a way to pay tribute to someone’s life. They convey warmth and caring, and also provide a pleasant diversion from the nervous tension present at a funeral home. Families are grieving, yet they feel they must mingle with well wishers. Friends stopping in want to pay respects, but are anxious about what to say. In either case, flowers can be a comforting topic of conversation.

No matter what flowers you send or where you send them, take the opportunity to write something meaningful on the enclosed card. Just a line will do, since the card is small. Try, “You’re in our thoughts,” followed by “With sympathy” and everyone’s name. Or consider another option, such as “Our hearts are with you at this sad time.”

If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners. 


Image via Flickr Creative Commons / normanack 

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