Mar 23, 2022

Sympathy Flowers Etiquette: Everything You Need To Know

by Caitlin Schweppe

When someone you care about has lost a loved one, it’s natural to want to reach out and try to lessen their suffering.

And while nothing we say or do can take away the pain of losing someone special, just letting that person know that you’re thinking of them can offer some much-needed comfort.

Sympathy flowers are an intimate and beautiful way of showing that you care, but you may be unsure when to send your delivery or which flowers to choose and to lend a helping hand, we’ve put together this guide to help you understand everything there is to know about sympathy flower etiquette so you can appropriately show those grieving that you care.

Understanding the difference between sympathy flowers and funeral flowers

While both sympathy flowers and funeral flowers are a touching and traditional way to pay tribute to the deceased and offer sympathy to the grieving, there are some subtle differences between the two.

Sympathy flowers are typically addressed and sent directly to the home of the bereaved family. These intimate floral arrangements are appropriate if the bereaved is a close friend or if you knew the deceased well. Sympathy flower arrangements are often smaller than those sent to a funeral home as they are intended to be decorative and displayed around the house.

Funeral flowers, on the other hand, are delivered directly to the funeral home in time for the service. These larger arrangements can include wreaths or standing sprays.

Expressing grief and support — when should you send sympathy flowers?

Timing can differ between sympathy flowers and funeral flowers as well. You can order either type as soon as you hear of the death. However, funeral flowers should arrive in time for – and ideally on the day of – the funeral service.

On the other hand, you may choose to send sympathy flowers days or even weeks after the service has taken place. Grief doesn’t go away after a funeral, so this can be a nice way of letting the family know that you’re still thinking of them once the initial attention has waned.

You might even want to send sympathy flowers in the years that follow to mark the anniversary of the loss.

Three things you should never do when sending sympathy flowers

While sending sympathy flowers is a kind and touching gesture that offers a token of comfort to the bereaved, there are some rules of sympathy flower etiquette that you should be aware of so as not to cause offence during this sensitive grieving period.

Here are a few things you should definitely not do when sending sympathy flowers:

Don’t leave the card blank. While it might be hard to find the words, avoid sending a blank card at all costs. Even if you don’t know the bereaved family personally or you never met the loved one, you want to show that you care. If you’re really struggling to put pen to paper, just keep it simple. Tell them your thoughts are with them in one line, or simply add your first and last name to one of the sympathy cards included in our arrangements.

Don’t forget who you’re remembering. Resist the temptation to choose the flowers or colours you’d like to receive yourself. The grieving family will really appreciate reminders of their loved one at this time, so think carefully about what the deceased would enjoy. If you don’t know their favourite type of flower, then choose an arrangement in their favourite colour instead.

Don’t send flowers typically associated with joy, happiness, wealth or seduction – such as yellow roses or tulips, or bright red roses. What flowers should you send to show sympathy?

The sympathy flowers you choose can send a very specific message to the bereaved.

Lilies (and white stargazer lilies in particular) are a safe and popular choice, representing innocence, purity and sympathy. Or you could pick a flower that has a strong symbolic meaning. As the name suggests, forget-me-nots symbolise everlasting remembrance. Freesias are a symbol of friendship, and orchids express love. Chrysanthemums will also send a message of grief and support, while carnations are a beautiful symbol of remembrance and everlasting devotion.

If in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a mixed flower arrangement that has been carefully curated by an experienced florist. And while white is undoubtedly the most popular colour for sympathy flowers, soft pastels or deep, rich shades can also work well. If you want to add a little colour to your condolences, consider an arrangement that includes pink gerberas, deep red roses or purple lavender.

Just keep in mind that that this is a sad occasion, so it’s best to pepper your arrangement with colour rather than opt for a cheerful, all-bright bouquet. It’s generally best to steer clear of yellow, which can symbolise jealousy in some cultures, and avoid sending red flowers to Asian families.

Alternatively, consider sending a green or flowering plant, such as peace lily, orchid or hydrangea. These plants will last longer than cut flowers. They will also serve as a beautiful and enduring reminder of your thoughtfulness, offering comfort long after the funeral service is over.

Still not sure which flowers to send? Read our “What flowers should you send to show sympathy” guide for a more detailed look at which flowers convey the best message for you.

Sympathy flowers etiquette across different faiths

Floral tokens are deemed an appropriate gesture of sympathy across many religions, but not all.

Certain colours or flowers can also represent different things to people of different faiths. It’s therefore important to find out if the grieving family has any religious affiliations and choose your sympathy flowers accordingly, so as not to offend at this sensitive time.

Here are some general rules of sympathy flower etiquette to follow when religion is a factor:

  • In the Jewish faith, sending flowers is not an appropriate gesture of sympathy either at the funeral or at shiva calls, so please consider an alternative condolence gift.
  • Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations typically welcome floral expressions of sympathy, although certain Protestant branches (particularly Reformed traditions) may prefer plain and simple arrangements, or even a charitable donation instead.
  • In the Eastern Orthodox Church, white flowers hold a particularly high value.
  • Guests do not take or send flowers to a Hindu burial ceremony, although flowers or garlands may well be present in the casket. Sympathy flowers may be sent to the family home after the ceremony, but we recommend checking with the individual family first.
  • In Buddhism, white flowers are the traditional flower of mourning. Avoid sending red flowers, however, as this colour is traditionally associated with happiness and wealth.
  • It’s generally appropriate to send flowers to a grieving Asian family, but avoid red arrangements as this is the colour of happiness in most Asian traditions. White or yellow chrysanthemums are a good choice instead.
  • Sympathy flowers are appropriate for a Mormon funeral ceremony, but avoid sending arrangements that contain or allude to crosses or crucifixes.
  • Islamic tradition places a great emphasis on simplicity, so any bouquets sent to a grieving Muslim household should be kept plain and simple. However, please check with the individual family first to see if flowers are welcome.
  • Who should you send sympathy flowers to?

    This will depend on your relationship with the grieving family and whether or not you personally knew the deceased.

    If the person that passed was particularly close to you or the family plays an important part in your life, then sending and addressing your sympathy flowers directly to the family home is a more intimate gesture.

    Keep in mind that smaller, thoughtfully arranged floral bouquets are more appropriate for this. If you don’t know the address of the family home, you might want to contact the funeral home and ask them to pass the flowers on to the family.

    Alternatively, if the deceased was unknown to you personally, you don’t know the family home address or the grieving person is an acquaintance, then it may be more appropriate to send sympathy flowers to the funeral home instead. In this instance, larger floral arrangements and funeral wreaths are a more popular option.

    What should you write as a message of condolence in a card with sympathy flowers?

    You want to ensure your carefully written message of condolence conveys empathy, sincerity and respect for the grieving family. However, choosing the right words to adequately express your own grief and your heartfelt sympathy to the grieving can be difficult. That’s why we’ve put together this detailed guide to sympathy messages to help you put your sentiments into words.

    As a general overview, there are three things you want to accomplish with your condolence card. First, start with a simple statement of condolence to express your sympathy.

    Then – if appropriate – tell the bereaved what their loved one meant to you, and perhaps share a short anecdote from your relationship. Finally, end your message with some words of encouragement and support.

    Our sympathy flowers include a card with space to add your own short message of love. Alternatively, if you want to say more, consider choosing one of our sympathy cards that include a poem and the option to add a longer personalised message.

    Are you looking for sympathy flowers? Browse our full range here.