Knowing what to do when a close friend, colleague or relative has lost someone dear to them isn’t always easy. But whether we realise it or not, even in the most difficult times humans need connection, and the smallest gesture from the people around us can make a difference.
For many of us, flowers are in the language in which we communicate this support, but sometimes people request that we avoid using flowers as a token of our condolences – leading to the question; what should I send when someone dies instead of flowers?
Why Don’t Some People Want Flowers When a Person Dies?
Traditionally, people tend to send flowers on a variety of occasions to express their feelings – whether that’s love, celebration or (as in this case) sympathy. But while many people welcome flowers, others would prefer people refrain from sending them flowers in the days and weeks after bereavement.
This preference may have its roots in the beliefs and culture of the people in question. For example, in many Jewish communities, it is considered inappropriate to put flowers on display in times of loss. On the other hand, it may simply be a matter of personal choice. Receiving many bouquets of fresh flowers can be overwhelming (especially if people have nowhere to put them), and some people find the sight of wilting flowers depressing when they’re already contending with the loss of life.
Alternatives to Flowers for the Bereaved
Sympathy flowers may be the norm, but they are far from the only thoughtful gift you can give to the bereaved. Some tokens and gifts you can send when someone dies instead of flowers include:
A charitable donation
Was there a charity which was particularly close to the heart of the person who has passed? Perhaps a particular organisation helped them when they were in need, or they volunteered to benefit their community. Giving a charitable donation is a meaningful way to honour a person’s memory and can be hugely appreciated by their family.
Hamper or Care Package
The days and weeks after someone has passed away can be a busy time, with organisational and administrative tasks piling up exactly at the same time that we are likely to be very emotionally vulnerable. A care package in these circumstances can be a saving grace, and can be personalised to meet the individual’s preferences and needs.
You may, for example, put together a self-care package that includes items that help the recipient relax and look after themselves, or send a selection of nice food items for ease and comfort.
In times of upheaval, keeping on top of the basics can become a challenge in itself. While you should always ask first to see if your help would be welcome, there are many practically-minded gifts you can choose that will ease the burden people carry, such as:
- Asking what they need and sending an online order of groceries to their house, so they don’t have to think about shopping.
- Covering the cost of a meal from their favourite takeaway and organising delivery on their behalf.
- Paying for a cleaning service so they can take tidying off the to-do list.
You don’t have to spend money to show your feelings, and it may be that sharing your time is far more valuable to the bereaved than any kind of gift would have been.
Perhaps a close friend has lost a close relative but also has small children to look after – offering to babysit can take the pressure off them and give them time to complete key tasks. Or maybe a colleague has taken bereavement leave but is worried about emails banking up that they’d have to deal with on their return – taking on some of their workload can mean they don’t have to play catch-up while they are still grieving.
Grief is a universal human experience and one that several writers have written elegantly about. Perhaps there’s a novel that got you through a hard time that you wish to share, or a hopeful story you think could help someone as they navigate loss. There may even be a book you know will tickle their funny bone and bring a little joy and distraction to their days. Whatever you choose, a book can represent a thoughtful and meaningful gift.
A plant for the garden
Flower bouquets are ephemeral, but a plant or tree can bring beauty to a garden year after year. From a cherry tree promising springtime blossom to a seed mix of vibrant wildflowers, plants can be a profound tribute to someone’s life, and help families feel connected to life and rebirth.
Sometimes the most powerful thing you can give is a memory or emotion, written in your own words. If the person who has passed meant something to you, or you shared an experience with them, write it down to share with their loved ones. This way they can add your happy memories to theirs and know how much their loved one was cherished.
When someone dies, we tend to find all those photos and videos we created (and often without a thought) on our phones and other devices become extremely precious. If you don’t have much money to spend, one profound gift can be to send all the photos and videos you have of the person they’ve lost or offer to coordinate amongst friends and family to collate all the digital files to an external hard drive. You could also pay to print them and create a memory book sharing stories of that person’s life.
Hopefully, amongst these ideas, there is something that has sparked some inspiration for you, and you can find the right way to express your sympathy and support.