The phrase funeral gifting etiquette might sound intimidating, but giving gifts after the death of a loved one isn’t as complex as it might appear to be. When someone we know experiences a death, there’s no perfect way to ease or erase their pain, but we can offer our support in a myriad of ways, including gift-giving. From flower arrangements to sympathy cards, here are seven helpful tips for following funeral gifting etiquette.
Funeral Gifting Etiquette Starts With the Family’s Preferences
You might be wondering what to bring someone after a death in the family. Start by reading the obituary of the deceased—this is where the family will often detail what kind of gifts they’d prefer to receive if any. While some families prefer to receive flower arrangements to display at the funeral service, others encourage funeral attendees to donate to a charitable cause in the name of the deceased instead.
Condolence gifts should honor the family’s wishes but also be thoughtful. You don’t have to go all out and buy something expensive or grand. In fact, people often appreciate smaller, more thoughtful gifts that help them through their bereavement.
Here are a few quick tips for choosing the right gift:
- Choose something small and not too expensive
- Opt for something personable—this can include gifts of service, too
- Consider making food for the family of the deceased or making a charitable donation
The most important thing is to think about what the grieving person will appreciate most. You might cook them their favorite dish or make them a photo album full of memories of the deceased. It’s also okay to ask them what would be most helpful before choosing a gift so that you can give them something meaningful.
It’s perfectly fine to send a gift to any family member, close friend, or significant other of the deceased person, and don’t forget about any children who are grieving too. Many children love receiving something soft and snuggly after losing someone, such as a blanket or stuffed animal.
However, before you send any gifts, keep in mind any religious customs of the grieving family. It’s acceptable to send flowers to someone of the Christian faith, but not to someone who is Jewish. Certain religions and cultures also have dietary restrictions, so be sure to do your research before preparing food for anyone.
When it comes to giving money, don’t rule it out. While it may feel impersonal, it’s often well-received and appreciated. Funerals can be expensive, and if the deceased was the main source of household income, a little cash might go a long way.
If you do choose to give money, try to be discreet about it—finances can be a sensitive area for some people. The best way to do this is to include your cash or check donation inside the envelope with your sympathy card and hand it directly to the person it’s intended for.
Funeral Flower Arrangements Make Great Condolence Gifts
While some families will specify that they don’t want funeral flower arrangements, other families appreciate flowers as a way to honor and memorialize their loved ones.
When it comes to funeral flower etiquette, the size of the arrangement you choose symbolizes your closeness to the deceased. The closer your relationship to the person who passed away, the larger the flower arrangement can be. For example, if you are immediately related to the deceased, it’s totally okay to provide a spray or large bouquet for the funeral service. If you’re not a close family member or partner, opt for smaller arrangements in vases or baskets, and be sure to stick to your own personal budget—there’s no reason to purchase something expensive when it’s the thought that counts.
If you’re not able to attend the funeral, you can still send flowers to the funeral home or consider sending flowers the week after the funeral. Post-funeral gifts are often highly appreciated because they come after the hustle and bustle of funeral-planning is over when most people truly start grieving and feeling the loss of their loved one.
For more funeral flower arrangement ideas, check out our guide for sending funeral flowers.
What to Do When the Family Requests Donations
How much money should you give at a funeral? As with any other condolence gift, you don’t have to go beyond your means to make an impact or show the family that you care for them. A widely-accepted rule is that any donation you make should match what you would spend on a funeral flower arrangement. Arrangements cost anywhere from $50 to $100+ but feel free to donate however much your budget allows.
Remember that the friends and family of the deceased will likely be appreciative that you made a contribution at all and that you’re under no obligation to donate money unless it feels right to you. If you choose to make a donation in the deceased’s name, try to do this as soon as possible after the death to ensure that the family knows about your contribution.
While most charities, non-profits, and other organizations have made it easy to donate online with your credit card, it’s actually best practice to write a check for funeral and memorial donations. This ensures that you have a physical record of your contribution and also allows the organization to send your information to the family. However, if it’s easiest for you to donate online, that’s perfectly fine acceptable, too.
No Matter the Gift, Be Sure to Include a Sympathy Card
What do you put in a condolence card? Sympathy card etiquette usually calls for short, sweet messages that express your condolences in a personal way. Here are a few tips for writing a sympathy card:
- If you knew the person who passed, but not their family and friends, be sure to mention how you knew their loved one.
- If you’re able to help the recipient with making funeral arrangements, cooking meals, taking children to school, etc., be sure to mention this in your sympathy card, and be specific about what you can help with.
- While it’s good to send a sympathy card soon after the death, you can also send follow-up messages during holidays or on special dates like birthdays or anniversaries to let the recipient know you’re still thinking about them.
- If you find yourself stuck with what to write, that’s okay. Keep things short with messages like, “with deepest sympathy” or “I’m sorry for your loss.” Another great way to tackle writer’s block is to find a card that already includes a sympathy message that resonates with you.
- If you’re unable to attend the funeral service, feel free to write a longer note to let the recipient know how you feel and how you can support them.
Remember to Send Gifts in a Timely Manner
It’s best to send sympathy gifts as soon after the death or funeral as possible. A general rule of thumb is to send gifts within 2 weeks of the deceased’s passing.
However, if you miss that window, it’s still okay to send gifts, messages, and condolences weeks or even months after the death to offer support and let the recipient know you’re still thinking about them.
How to Offer Your Condolences on Social Media
In the age of social media, it’s quite common to offer condolences on Facebook or other platforms, but you might be wondering what exactly to post when someone dies. Because social media offers instant communication, it’s easy to rush to update your status when someone you love passes away, but be sure to follow proper condolence etiquette to avoid any unnecessary conflict.
First, take some time to process, think about how you feel, and check in with any important family members or close friends of the deceased to make sure they’re okay with you making any information public.
Once you’ve crafted your message, be sure to proofread it and make sure all of the information is correct. A great way to do this is to compare what you’ve written to the obituary, especially if you’re making the death announcement. Remember to keep things short, avoid details, and share what feels personal and right to you.
If you’re commenting on a post that someone else made, keep it simple. Try messages such as, “Thinking of you and your family” or share a quick memory of the deceased. Avoid asking questions or sharing too many details.
Private messages are a great way to go when sharing condolences on social media. Think of your message as a digital sympathy card and keep things simple, short, and sweet.
Last, but not least, remember that online posts or messages are not replacements for sympathy cards. In many cases, a simple private message or text is perfect if you weren’t close to the deceased or their family, but if you were, consider sending a gift, donation, or card to show you care.