Sympathy Flowers

Photo courtesy of Monday Morning Flowers and Balloon Co.

Having worked for the floral industry for almost 20 years, I’ve talked with many family, friends, and acquaintances who question the practicality of sympathy flowers or are confused by the ‘in lieu of flowers’ phrase often seen in death notices and obituaries. Having been to my share of funerals I have seen first hand the healing nature of flowers during a time when words cannot express. But a recent correspondence from Bobbie Nelson, a funeral director’s wife, sums it up so beautifully I have to  share her thoughts:

I recently received an e-mail saying “How many flowers end up at the funeral home and how many flowers did the dead person enjoy while they were alive?” This got me to think about both industries, florists and funeral homes.  Quiet ambassadors of love, flowers, yes, flowers. As a funeral director’s wife I have had the honor of standing by others in times of loss and grief. When confusion and pain run so deep, words are intrusive and unwelcome. When hearts are too full for anything except flowers. They stand in their place and tell those who are left, we love them. We are thinking about them right at this moment in time. We care deeply.

God’s beautiful bouquets send thoughtfulness, reassurance, strength, filling the air with His special perfume and color. ‘How thoughtful’ the loved ones say as they read the flower cards, kindness of friends and family shining through. ‘Oh, this is from Aunt Jenny. She can’t travel now but she sent flowers.’

Can you see? Can you hear? Ambassadors of a Godly sort sent from hearts of love to hurting people everywhere…even at the end of our journey, letting the living know how much we care. The flowers are in memory, but they are for the living! So send flowers as often as you are able and know they will reflect your love and care, especially to a funeral home. The saddest thing I have ever witnessed is a funeral without so much as a tiny bud vase whispering ‘someone cares.’

I share Bobbie’s sentiments wholeheartedly. Not because I work for the floral industry but because I have experienced and seen the power of flowers at the lowest points in people’s lives. They do bring comfort to the heart of remembrance, they do add warmth to an otherwise cold and somber environment, and they do provide a beautiful diversion to focus on at a time when words are few.

Research shows that flowers increase feelings of compassion, and people feel less depressed, anxious and agitated in their presence. Such compelling research shows flowers can play a critical role in the bereavement process.

"She loved the beach" photo courtesy of Rose Garden Florist

A big trend in sympathy flowers is personalizing them in remembrance of a loved ones’ personality (such as yellow flowers for a sunny disposition) or a well-known hobby or interest (“She was an avid gardener” or “He loved to fish”). Tributes such as these often conjure up pleasant memories and stories that provide great comfort to the loved ones left behind. Your florist can be an expert resource in helping you express your feelings of condolence.

And as for ‘in lieu of flowers’ in an obituary? Unfortunately, that buzz phrase is often automatically inserted without much thought when a charity is designated. An alternative phrase could be simply, “The family requests memorial contributions be made to XYZ Organization.” The reality is, it is highly unlikely that the bereaved would want a funeral completely devoid of flowers. So if your heart desires to express your sympathy with flowers, send them. Flowers are a thoughtful way to honor a beautiful life and they provide visible emotional support during a difficult time.

Questions about sympathy flowers? Visit for pictures of different types of funeral tributes, answers to commonly asked questions, and suggestions for card messages.

Need to find a florist? Visit our Florist Directory.

How have flowers helped you express your feelings when words fail? What creative sympathy tributes have you seen? Please share in the comments below.