Alternatives to Flowers for a Funeral

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
Photo by Garry Knight

Photo by Garry Knight

Sending flowers for funerals is a tradition that dates back farther than human civilization. The remains of flowers have been found in pre-historic burials, and flowers have been used throughout history to symbolize the fragility and continuity of life, to lift the spirits of the grieving, and to express sympathy. Still, there are many reasons why the deceased’s family may ask that friends and family not send flowers, and that well-wishers may show sympathy and support in other ways. Some people have pollen allergies. Some are concerned about the environmental impact of the floral industry, and of supporting large corporations—and with good reason. According to the USDA, 67 percent of flowers bought in the U.S. are imported from other countries, and a list of the top 10 largest corporations controlling the funeral industry includes 1-800-FLOWERS. Flowers for funerals are big business. Whether you’re planning a funeral or showing sympathy, there are beautiful and thoughtful alternatives to flowers. Consider these ideas:

In Lieu of Flowers

To ask for gifts other than flowers, the traditional wording for funeral announcements is “in lieu of flowers…” followed by a request for donations to a charity or place of worship that was important to the deceased and his or her family. The floral industry points out that this wording discourages gifts of flowers altogether, when the family may have meant simply to offer more options. If you are planning a funeral, ask for what is most comforting and meaningful to you. If you would like flowers and other forms of tribute, a phrase like “Flowers are welcome. Contributions may be sent to…” makes the options clear. If you truly prefer to avoid cut flowers, asking for donations “in lieu of flowers” is appropriate and understandable.


Alternative Funeral Visuals

If you’re planning a flower-free funeral, there are still ways to connect with nature and symbolize the resilience of the human spirit. For example, consider releasing doves or butterflies during the service.


Alternative Sympathy Gifts

If you are expressing your sympathy for another family’s loss, and you would like to say it with something other than flowers, there are many other ways to show how much you care. This post from SavingsAdvice.com suggests alternative gifts with the goal of saving money, but these less-common gifts are also thoughtful, personal, and likely to be deeply appreciated by the family. Charitable donations are suggested, of course, as are homemade gifts—plants from your own garden or an art project in memory of the deceased—but the most personal, helpful gift of all is the gift of service. Be there for the family. Offer to cook a meal, do laundry, clean, run errands, babysit small children, or house sit to keep the deceased’s home safe. When showing your sympathy, it is certainly the thought that counts. Even if the family is accepting sympathy flowers, the gift of your time and presence will be appreciated, as well.

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