As one of the oldest mourning rites, flowers provide a means to convey the support and care from family and friends, without the awkwardness of finding just the right words. Selecting and sending the right flowers at the most appropriate time and place requires an understanding of the family's desires, as well as their cultural heritage and preferences. Understanding the etiquette involving sympathy and funeral flowers will ensure that your gift does not offend the bereaved.
Sympathy vs. Funeral Flowers
Generally, sympathy flowers are those sent directly to the home of the deceased or to family members before or after services, while funeral flowers go to the funeral home or to the church for display during the funeral. Other than the timing of the gift, however, the same basic guides apply to both.
Above all, it is most respectful to follow the family's wishes regarding flowers. If the obituary mentions charitable contributions instead of flowers, honor the loved ones' request, although it is acceptable to send a smaller bouquet of sympathy flowers in addition to the donation.
When you sign the accompanying card, be sure to include both your first and last names, to avoid any confusion.
Types of Flowers
Although a tasteful arrangement of any type of flower is acceptable, certain blossoms are traditionally associated with funerals. Carnations, gladioli, lilies, roses and chrysanthemums are conventional choices, especially with the symbolic association of white lilies with peace and red roses with love. A selection of the deceased's favorite flowers or color personalizes the tribute, as well.
In Asian cultures, white flowers are usually least likely to cause possible offense, although yellow chrysanthemums are also traditional for Chinese, Korean and Japanese services.
The main consideration in choosing the flowers is that they should not become the focus of attention. The service is to honor the deceased, and an overly lavish or cheery arrangement may distract from that purpose, thus creating an impression of disrespect.
Types of Arrangements
Generally, family -- specifically, the spouse, children, siblings or parents of the deceased -- provide the flowers placed on or in the casket. When the family opts for a funeral pall -- a cloth spread over the casket or coffin -- or a flag, a standing arrangement placed at the head of the casket may replace the casket spray, which covers the top of the funerary box.
Other arrangements, including wreaths, crosses, hearts, standing sprays or baskets are also appropriate choices for family members, friends, acquaintances or business colleagues.
When to Send Flowers
It is acceptable to send sympathy flowers even if an extended period has passed since the death or funeral. Whenever possible, however, funeral flowers should arrive before the first visitation or viewing. If you hand-carry the flowers to the viewing, give them to the funeral director for placement.
Because Jewish law demands immediate burial -- generally within three days -- flowers are not a customary part of the rites. Those not of a strict Orthodox tradition probably will appreciate the gift, but it is more traditional to send food or fruit baskets to the family during the mourning period.
Although Islamic teachings discourage flowers at the services, the practice is changing. It is common to place single blooms on the grave itself, arranged with palm fronds and other greenery. Garlands and sprays are most common for Hindu mourning rites, while white flowers are preferred in the Eastern Orthodox practices. As a practice, Mormon congregations generally welcome funeral flowers, other than cross-shaped arrangements. At one time, it was not proper to send flowers to a Catholic church or cathedral, but that decision now depends on the policy of the specific church.
When in doubt about the appropriateness of sending flowers to a church or funeral home, you can opt for sending them directly to the home of the deceased or of a family member. Often, a local florist can advise you on the policies of a particular locale, and the funeral director can guide you on the family's preferences.
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- McAdams Funeral Florist: History and Importance of Sympathy Flowers
- Funeral Wise: Funeral Etiquette -- Sending Funeral Flowers
- Funeral Wise: Asian Funeral Flower Customs
- Bachman's Floral Gift & Garden: Sympathy and Funeral Flowers Etiquette
- USA Funeral Homes Online: Funeral Flowers -- Sympathy Flowers
- FromYouFlowers.com: Funeral and Sympathy Flowers
Pamela Martin has been writing since 1979. She has written newsletter articles and curricula-related materials. She also writes about teaching and crafts. Martin was an American Society of Newspaper Editors High School Journalism Fellow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in elementary education from Sam Houston State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum/instruction from the University of Missouri.