At a time of loss, people express sympathy for friends and loved ones in a variety of ways. Attending the wake or memorial, sending a personal note, making a hot meal for the family, helping with child care, contributing to an appropriate charity, or even just a personal call can mean so much. Of course, one sympathy tradition that has been a part of nearly every culture throughout history is flowers. Research shows that flowers increase feelings of compassion and happiness, and people feel less depressed and anxious around flowers. Grieving families and funeral experts alike would agree that a wide variety of heartfelt expressions, including flowers, can all help soften the sorrow.

Yet, at the suggestion of well-meaning friends or advisors, families sometimes include a phrase in obituary announcements which seems to discourage one of the most popular forms of expressing one's deepest condolences. The phrase is "In lieu of flowers ..." While this phrase is NOT usually meant to restrict friends and loved ones from sending flowers if they wish, it is sometimes mistakenly taken that way, and in some cases families later regret having too few flowers at the funeral. In most cases, one of the following alternative phrases would avoid such situations and better express the family's wishes, namely to encourage donations to the charity of its choosing without limiting other forms of heartfelt support.

Alternative Phrases to "In Lieu of Flowers"

  • Memorial contributions may be made to ...

  • The family suggests memorial contributions be sent to ...

  • Should friends desire, contributions may be sent to ...

  • Memorials may be made to the charity of your choice.

  • As an expression of sympathy, donations may be mailed to ...

  • For memorial contributions, the family has designated ...

  • Remembrances may be made in the form desired by friends.

  • Flowers and contributions to ____________ are both welcome.

Why Florists Want to Bury the Term

Flowers not only brighten and warm a funeral or memorial service, they are also a visible outpouring of support that has a positive impact on the emotional well-being of bereaved. And, naturally, florists want to preserve part of their livelihood, too. So, while floral professionals support charitable giving and all other forms of expressing one's sympathy, they also believe flowers should not be discouraged. "It's hard to imagine a funeral or memorial service without flowers," says Rod Saline, owner of Engwall Florist & Greenhouses in Duluth, Minnesota, yet 'in lieu of flowers" runs the risk of doing just that."

The "in lieu of flowers" phrase traces its roots back to the 1950s but has become more prominent in the last couple of decades with the proliferation of charitable organizations actively seeking memorial donations. Florists applaud the intention but generally believe it can often be more appropriately expressed without the negative reference to flowers -- because families who honor loved ones by designating a favorite charity rarely want a service devoid of flowers, and friends deserve to express their feelings with a variety of caring gestures.

For additional information, visit About Sympathy Flowers, About Funeral Flowers, and Interfaith Etiquette for Funeral Flowers.

To send your sympathy with flowers, order Funeral Flowers, Sympathy Flowers, or Family Funeral Flowers online today for same-day and next-day delivery throughout the Continental U.S.A. and Canada. For flower delivery outside the USA and Canada, see International Flowers.

Sources: Society of American Florists; Research Studies by Rutgers University and Harvard University

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