When someone passes away, it is an almost unbearable loss for their close family and friends. There is nothing anyone can say or do that can lessen the grief, and the only thing that helps is unwavering support that helps them endure their loss. In these circumstances, it is customary to offer the families who have lost a loved one a sympathy tribute of some sort, be it flowers, a letter or card conveying sincere condolences, or even, if invited, to present a tribute at a service or write an obituary.
With all the forms that a sympathy tribute can take, it is important to know when and how to present these tributes, and under which circumstances. Read on to find out how you can adequately convey your sympathies to, and indeed share the grief of, a family who has lost a loved one.
When sending or bringing flowers to the family of the deceased, context matters. Are you sending them to a residence, are you bringing them to the funeral, or are you bringing them to a memorial service? Depending on when, how, and through which medium the flower tribute is made, there are different things you might need to keep in mind.
When sending funeral flowers, or bringing them to a funeral, there are a few things you need to consider. What was your relationship with the person who has passed? Were you close? If yes, an arrangement like a casket spray—usually only placed by close friends and kin—might be an appropriate arrangement to send.
However, if you are not close to the deceased, you came to support a family member, for example, then a free standing easel arrangement is very appropriate. These arrangements are typically formal and should be in more somber colors. It can include wreaths, sprays and flowers arranged in shapes like hearts and crosses. These are the types of arrangements typically taken to the grave site. If you would rather bring flowers to the funeral that family members take can home, pick a houseplant or a basket arrangement.
Remember to think of religious affiliations before you select flowers, or before you decided on flowers itself because they may not be appropriate. For instance, while most Christian denominations encourage mourners to bring flowers, many Jewish, Islamic, or sometimes even Hindu groups don’t expect flowers at a funeral. However, these are only general trends and funerals will vary.
Before selecting flowers, figure out if it’s appropriate to send them, and if so, if there are any specifications. Members of the Eastern Orthodox Faith, for example, prefer white flowers at a funeral. If not determined by faith, color can also sometimes be determined by the preference of the deceased—if they liked yellow flowers, it would be appropriate to bring the same to the service.
Lately, it is becoming common for families to request mourners to make a donation to a charity or organization in lieu of the flowers, and if so, try and honor the request instead of sending flowers. Sending flowers and making a donation is also acceptable. However, if you did not know about such a request, sending flowers is absolutely appropriate.
Sympathy flowers are the flowers or plants that you can bring or send to the home of the person who has recently passed. Often, people prefer to give living plants as a sympathy tribute, mostly because it acts as a remembrance of the recently departed loved one.
When sending sympathy flowers, most considerations that apply to funeral flowers apply here as well—always find out whether it is faith-appropriate to send flowers, and whether there is a preference for color. If a family requests something else instead of flowers, then honor that request.
Condolence Cards — What Can You Say
Whether you send a sympathy card by itself or with a flower arrangement, knowing what to say in the event of the death of a loved one is difficult. If you’re sending a card with the flowers, most florists will offer you the option of attaching a standard card with the phrase “With Deepest Sympathy” or something similar with your name attached. This is perfectly appropriate if the deceased was an acquaintance or close to a friend or family member. Cards to avoid include anything that diminishes the grief of kin, especially ones with phrases like “it was a blessing in disguise,” or “It’s for the best,” or even “Time heals all wounds”.
If you knew the person who passed quite well, then it might behoove you to write a more detailed card. Not only will reading the card offer the family of the deceased some comfort, you will also find comfort in writing it.
When writing a card of condolence, with or without flowers, always keep your tone respectful and sincere. Share a cherished memory, or something to bring lightness to the person reading the card. Share some poetry or song that was special, or talk about the relationship you had with the deceased. Don’t be accusatory, rude, or confrontational with the card in any way—every word you write must come from your heart and offer solace. If you cannot find the words, send a simple card instead of forcing yourself to write a more elaborate one.
Verbal tributes, even public ones, to the deceased may be acceptable only, and only when invited by the family to deliver one. If you were very close to the person who passed, it is likely that the family might want you to offer a few words during the service or a reception in remembrance—and it is only then that you may offer any type of verbal tribute to the deceased, or sympathies to all those who lost them.
In this case, a few heartfelt words about the relationship you had with the deceased, carefully chosen poems or lyrics, or something else that has been significant in your relationship may be shared. If not invited, never offer public tributes.
Offer Support and Time
When offering a sympathy tribute to a family that has lost a loved one, perhaps the best thing you can offer is your support, understanding, and time. Depending on your relationship with the family, offer food, child-care, house-hold help, or simply a shoulder to lean on. If you are a colleague, handle mourners from the office so that the family has less on their plate; if the deceased is say, the father of a friend, offer food, rides, and other necessities.
When sharing your sympathy with the family of someone who has passed, or even sharing your grief, remember that there are very few ways you will go wrong unless you offer a tribute without sincerity or respect. If these two elements are present, alongside some sensitivity, your gesture to the bereaved family will most certainly help bring some lightness and a momentary, yet much-needed, respite from grief.
Updated: July 23, 2016