Although customs vary depending on the family’s religion or ethnicity, funeral arrangements of flowers or basket gardens often are sent to the church, the funeral home, or the family’s home. (Notable exceptions are Jewish families, although in recent years it has become somewhat more acceptable.)
If the obituary specifically asks for donations to a charity in lieu of flowers, it is good etiquette to follow the family’s wishes.
When sending flowers, be sure both your first and last names are on the card accompanying the flowers, since the family may know several “Dawns” or “Jasons.”
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Sympathy Flowers — Selecting Appropriate Flowers
Traditionally, flowers are a way to represent growth, new life and movement forward. The natural beauty of flowers at a funeral and at the home of mourners brings a sense of warmth and comfort to the environment.
Today, flowers are not mandatory, but they are one way people express their love for the deceased and concern for members of the family. Flowers can be ordered from a florist and delivered to the funeral home or residence.
Flowers for a funeral should arrive at the funeral home before the first visiting hours … to be there when the family arrives. If time does not permit delivery before visiting hours, flowers or a plant can be sent to the home of the bereaved. A potted plant has obvious symbolic meaning because it will continue to live and grow.
Traditional Funeral Flower Arrangements
Funeral flowers are generally categorized by their function; here are a few of the more commonly used arrangements to avoid any confusion when ordering:
- Wreaths – These are circular floral arrangements, which represent eternal life.
- Floral arrangements – Any type of floral arrangement, from cut flowers to basket and container arrangements.
- Sprays – These are arrangements that allow viewing from one side only.
- Casket sprays – These are usually organized by direct family members and sit on top of the casket.
- Inside pieces – These are the items placed inside the casket, such as small floral sprays.
Sometimes Flowers are Not Appropriate
There are instances when flowers are not appropriate. Such as when the family requests that donations be made in lieu of flowers. Although flowers are freely accepted by many religions and cultures at funerals, it is worth remembering that there are some which do not traditionally receive flowers such as the Jewish and Islamic faiths.
Jewish law has always demanded immediate burial – within three days – so flowers were never deemed necessary. To this day it has never been customary to send any flowers, although they are not forbidden and some Jews have begun sending them for Reformed Jewish funerals. Instead it is customary to send fruit and food baskets to the home of the bereaved during the mourning period.
At Islamic funerals some people send flowers and some don’t. It is, however, common to place individual flowers on graves along with palm branches and other greenery. Flowers are not a traditional part of Hindu funerals, but they are not unwelcome.
Refer to the Funeral Customs section for more information.
Choosing the Right Flowers
There are no particular types of flowers or colors that should be sent at funerals or homes of the bereaved. There are of course many favorites … carnations, chrysanthemums, gladiolas, lilies and roses are traditionally used in funeral flower arrangements. In particular, white lilies represent peace and red roses are renowned for expressing love. If the deceased always loved being in the garden and had a favorite flower and color, it would obviously be very comforting for the bereaved to receive an arrangement of such flowers.
Refer to the Asian Funeral Flowers page for more details about appropriate flowers in Chinese cultures.
Particular types of flowers and their colors can send more specific messages. Here is a guide that will help determine if your choice of flowers is saying what you want it to say:
Better Things to Come
I love you
Lilies of the Valley:
Return of Happiness
Innocence/”worthy of you”
Roses (red and white):
Roses (deep pink):
Roses (light pink):
Roses (coral or orange):
Roses (red & yellow blends):
Roses (pale colors):
A Single Rose:
Hybrid Tea Roses:
“I’ll remember you”
A Crown of Roses: