When 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. Check the obituary, funeral home website, or call the funeral home to ask if the family has offered an “in lieu of flowers” suggestion.
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.
An Unconventional Sympathy card, Handwritten note, or Trinket:
If you’re like me, you like the idea of sending a card or a note, but you don’t want to send the same old generic Hallmark card. First things first, handwritten notes from scratch are often the most thoughtful.
However, if you aren’t much with words, there are companies out there with relatable card options. You also might want to check out Emily McDowell Studios card collection or send them a card with our ‘Sometimes there is no silver lining’ enamel pin enclosed.
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. If this is the case, could you put 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). Take the person who has experienced the loss into account when deciding what to do – 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, make 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 acknowledgment 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
This 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!
If your co-worker has lost someone and you are looking for an alternative to flowers, perhaps you could donate a day of leave. Most companies only offer a couple of 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, people rarely think to send or give items to the kids. Children often feel forgotten with all the attention around the death and the 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.
When a loved one is ill or dies, housework (understandably) gets put on the back burner and this may continue for weeks or months as person grieves. Immediately following a loss, friends and family often stop by the house and, for some, it can be a big source of stress if 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 who mowed the lawn or took care of other outside needs. Even if this is not the case, taking care of those things can be an unnecessary stressor for 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’ve found incredibly meaningful is organizing friends to compile a book of letters. This is common when there are young children impacted by the loss, as friends can write letters to the children about their parent, grandparent, or another family member. However, children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from this gesture. For example, 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 the 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 is a common gesture sent instead of flowers (or in addition to flowers!), though we suggest it with caution. 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.
After experiencing 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, think about the person who died – is there a plant, flower, or color that 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.
Also 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 after a death, when I do I always send white irises.
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).
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 ideas. Please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below.