What to Send Instead of Flowers

What to Send Instead Of FlowersWhen my dad died there were more flower arrangements at the funeral home than we could count.  Though we were overwhelmed by the support of friends and family that those flowers represented, the tradition of sending flowers has always struck me as a bit strange.  Someone has died, so their friends and family all give them something that will die too.  Hmmm . . .

Don’t get me wrong, my family is Greek and Greeks love flowers at funerals — the more the better.  So I know that sometimes flowers are the perfect gesture after a death.  But with my personal aversion to giving flowers after a loss there are a few alternatives worth sharing for those looking for alternatives.  This is just a start, so if you have other ideas of what to send instead of flowers please leave a comment.  We want as comprehensive a list as possible.

Check for an “in lieu of flower”

Sometimes families have already told you what you can do instead! Check the obituary, funeral home website, or call the funeral home to ask if the family has offered an “in lieu of flowers” suggestion.

Tree or Shrub and Memorial Stonememorial stone

Though this post may not sound like it, I am actually a plant lover! A tree or shrub the family can plant in memory of their loved one is a nice lasting memorial.  Consider whether the family has a space for a tree or shrub and pick one that you feel would make a nice memorial.  There are many beautiful memorial stones you can find here on the With Sympathy Gifts website.  Even if a tree may be too much, these garden stones are a nice gift on their own.

Photos the Family Doesn’t Have

Many times as a friend or extended family member you may have photos that the immediate family does not have.  Consider putting together a memorial album or CD of photos the family doesn’t have of their loved one.  As the weeks and months pass they will likely be glad to have as many pictures as possible.

A Self-Care Gift

One of the most difficult things for people when they are dealing with the death of a family member is taking care of themselves.  Giving someone a gift such as a gift certificate for a massage, manicure, or even a private yoga class (some instructors will come to your home) is a nice gesture that may help them take time for themselves.  A self-care basket could also be nice if you don’t think they will be up for going out (think nice pajamas, bath items, a candle, a magazine, dvd etc).  Consider the person who has experienced the loss – if they love movies or baseball, tickets to a game or a movie gift card may be more appropriate.

A Dedication or Donation

Consider a dedication or donation you could make that will reflect the life of that person, or your relationship with them.  The options for this are endless – if this is a friend from high school or college, consider a memorial donation to that institution.  If the person was involved in a church or community organization call to see if a donation could be made or an item dedicated.  If the individual had any interest, from sports to art to animals and anything in between, seek a non-profit that may be working in those areas and make a contribution in their memory.  Most places will send an acknowledgement to the family that a donation was made in memory, so make sure to check and provide the family member’s address.

A Memorial Guestbook

memorial guestbookThis is not just any guestbook!  The Guestbook Store sells a customized memorial guestbook where those who attend a memorial service can sign not just their name, but also share a memory of the person and a special message to the family.  The service is often a blur for families, so having this book will allow guest to share memories and messages that the family will be able to look back on later.  Click here to check out their memorial book!

Vacation Time

If your co-worker has lost someone and you are considering an alternative to flowers, consider donating a day of leave.  Most companies only offer a couple days of bereavement time and, if their loss was not immediate family, they may receive no leave time at all.  Donating a day can mean the difference between someone having to return to work the day after a funeral versus having a day or two to rest before returning to work. Check with your HR department to see if your company allows this and what the process is.

Something For the Kids

Though one of the first questions people will ask after a loss is how the children who were affected are doing, children are rarely considered when thinking of things that can be given to a family.  Children can often feel forgotten with all the attention around a death and funeral.  Any small gift can remind them that you are thinking of them.  Think of the age and interest of the children – a stuffed animal (to cuddle with for comfort), a journal (to express feelings), coloring books, activity books, movies, or video games (to occupy themselves when everyone else is busy) are all easy suggestions that will let a child know you haven’t forgotten them.

House Cleaning

When a loved one is ill or dies housework (understandably) gets put on the back burner.  This can continue for weeks or months as we grieve.  Immediately following a loss friends and family are often stopping by the house and it can be a big source of stress that the house hasn’t been cleaned up.  A gift certificate to a cleaning service (even better, with an offer to call and get it scheduled) can be a relief to the family.  You could offer to clean their home, but keep in mind that many people are self-conscious about their mess and would rather have a stranger do this than a friend.

Lawn Care Service

Similar to the above suggestion, many times the person who has died was the person mowing the lawn and taking care of other outside needs.  Even if this is not the case, taking care of those things can be an unnecessary stress on the family.  A gift certificate to a lawn care service (even better, with an offer to call and get it scheduled) is a thoughtful and useful gesture.

Book of Letters

One gesture we have seen and found incredibly meaningful is organizing friends to compile a book of letters.  This is common when there are young children, as friends can write letters to the children about their parent, grandparent, or other family member.  But this doesn’t need to be limited to children.  A book of letters to a parent about their adult child can be extremely meaningful, as there are often many things their child has done and lives they have touched that the parents are unaware of.  This type of book is minimal in cost (all you need is a nice binder and possibly some page protectors, or a bound book that each person writes directly in) but it requires a lot of effort and coordination in contacting friends and gathering the letters.  This is a gesture many families will appreciate for years to come.

Food

Food is a tricky one, though it is a common gesture sent instead of flowers (or in addition to flowers!).  This probably requires its own post, but for now I will just say be thoughtful about how, when, and what you bring if you decide on food.  Right after a death families are often overwhelmed with food.  In a few weeks after the death a gift of food will probably be much more appreciated than right away, when the family has more casseroles than they can shove in the freezer.  A nice basket of non-perishable foods can be nice, especially snacks they can offer to people who stop by unexpectedly.  A good standby if you really want to stick with food may be a gift card to a local restaurant or carry out.  Another nice offer would be to grab their grocery list and go shopping for them.

Flowers or Plants

If you decide flowers are the right thing for you to send, you can make this more thoughtful than a standard arrangement.  First, consider the person who died – is there a plant, flower, or color than reminds you of that person for any reason?  If so, that may be a nice choice.  If not, decide if you want to send flowers or a plant.  The plant is something the family can keep, though not all families will want or appreciate that.  Then consider if there is a flower you have found particularly comforting.  When we lost my dad someone sent an arrangement of all white irises.  It was so beautiful and, for whatever reason, I found it so comforting.  Though I rarely send flowers now after a death, when I do think flowers are the best gesture I will send white irises because they brought comfort to me.

Buy your self a gift:

If you are looking for concrete, helpful ideas for being a good friend to a griever, don’t miss our ebook: Guide to Supporting a Griever (without sticking your foot in your mouth). Don’t worry, it is cheap and jam packed with helpful info (no angels, rainbows, inspirational quotes, or fluff — just helpful tips). You can find it here on amazon:

These are just a few ideas.  If you are looking for ways to support people after a death, check out our post on Supporting a Friend After a Death.  If you are worried about what to say to a friend, you can check out our list of What NOT to Say After a Death for some guidance.  If you have no idea what to write on your sympathy card check out our post on How to Write a Sympathy Card.

Many of you probably have other suggestions to add to this list.  Please leave a comment to let us know if you like or hate any of our suggestions, or if you have something to add.

21 Comments

  1. chelsea hanson
    February 27, 2013

    Thanks for sharing…great ideas!
    Flowers are beautiful….I just don’t like when they wilt and the bereaved person has to see more things “dying,” so that is why I also tend to stay away from flowers for sympathy gifts.

    Reply
    • Faka
      March 22, 2013

      That God is faithful to turn our mruoning into gladness. He can take this tragic experience and make beauty out of it by giving me understanding and compassion for others and teaching me to cherish my family on earth even more.

      Reply
  2. Lisa
    February 28, 2013

    Great ideas! I think it’s most important to think about the person or family that is receiving the gift. My grandmother was an amazing and talented gardener, so at her funeral we were a little disappointed by the lack of flowers! For us, that was the greatest gift to give, becuase we knew how much she would have loved it. Instead we received a pile of cards. And while they were thoughtful and of course appreciated, the real gift for us would have been flowers! Everyone is different!

    Reply
    • Litsa
      February 28, 2013

      Lisa, so sorry for the loss of your grandmother and thanks for sharing. I totally agree that thinking of the person who died and what they would have wanted, as well as the family recieving, is the most important thing. People often struggle to know what to do or send, but a little time thinking about the person and the family can usually point us in the right direction. If the person loved something in life, it will often be a comforting memorial. My great-uncle was a huge Orioles fan. Several friends sent Orioles-themed flower arrangements to the funeral home. Might sound crazy to a lot of people, but it was perfect for him!!

      Reply
  3. How to Write a Sympathy Card
    March 8, 2013

    [...] Now that you know how to write a sympathy card, want ideas for things you can send someone after their loved one has died (other than flowers!).  Check out our link on Alternatives to Sending Flowers for ten great ideas.  [...]

    Reply
  4. Funeral Flowers
    May 14, 2013

    I am a florist and work with funeral arrangements. i like the idea of the memorial stone maybe as an addition to the arrangement. Is there a site to order?

    Reply
  5. Melissa Anderson
    May 17, 2013

    I totally agree with these. Great ideas! I just realized that part when you mentioned giving flowers at a funeral. You’re right. But since flowers has been a tradition especially here in my place, it has been regard as some way of a respect.

    Reply
    • Eleanor
      May 18, 2013

      Absolutely Melissa, flowers are more often than not regarded as a beautiful gesture. I think the most important take away is to consider the family and what they will find most comforting and supportive.

      Reply
  6. Leighanna
    July 2, 2013

    I like the mentioned ideas. For those with strong faith I like to purchase an angel and write “in memory of” on the bottom.

    Reply
    • Eleanor
      July 2, 2013

      Leighanna, that’s a really thoughtful idea! Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
      • Marilyn
        December 18, 2013

        I like Leannann’ idea with the angel. When my Mother passed away a lot of people sent yellow roses. Very beautiful but everytime I looked at them it made me sad. Mom loved yellow roses–what I don’t understand is why family and friends didn’t give her roses when she was alive so she could enjoy them?

        Reply
  7. Shana
    December 31, 2013

    I send stamps instead of flowers. (for the thank-you cards) Or go for the practical….baggies and freezer containers for all the food. Household items…toilet paper, dish soap. They may not get anyone to do any shopping and may have a house full of family.

    Reply
    • Eleanor
      December 31, 2013

      What a great idea for care package items! I’ll definitely remember these suggestions.

      Reply
  8. David Storke
    February 15, 2014

    There are a lot of heartfelt sympathy gift ideas presented here. Thanks. I’ve been a funeral director for 29 years and have seen how much money is spent on sympathy gifts . I know, first hand, the senders good intentions and desire to “do something” helpful for the family. Food has always been a welcome and useful gift. Sometimes distance or schedules don’t permit the preparation or delivery of a meal. Several years ago I created http://www.sympathyfood.com as “A Comforting Alternative to Flowers.” Our chef-prepared, fully cooked meals can be shipped anywhere in the continental US in 1-3 days.

    Reply
  9. Tulipz florist
    March 24, 2014

    I like your Vacation Time gift ideas . here i read some unique ideas to send or happy your loved ones with other than flowers. Thanks for sharing with us .

    Reply
  10. Dan
    March 31, 2014

    One suggestion: Susan Bertram wrote a beautiful illustrated children’s book called “With You: Coping with the Loss of a Loved One” which could be linked to from the “Something For the Kids” section to Amazon’s site (like the “Guide to Supporting a Griever”). I think that is a very nice alternative to flowers…

    Reply
  11. flowers Adelaide
    April 7, 2014

    Chocolate and cake would be great alternative for flowers.

    Reply

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