Sympathy Gift Etiquette

Proper sympathy gift etiquette enables you to express your heartfelt condolences and help ease the pain of your bereaved friends or family members.

It's hard to know what to say when someone you know is grieving, so following the right funeral etiquette eases the burden of your friends or other family members at a highly emotional time.

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The Family's Wishes

First and foremost, sympathy etiquette says to respect the wishes of the family for bereavement purposes. Oftentimes, family members will designate a charitable foundation such as a hospice or a cure foundation to receive donations on behalf of the deceased or the family of the deceased. Respecting the family's wishes is often respecting the wishes of the deceased as well.

Sympathy Cards

Even when you make a donation in lieu of a gift, it is still appropriate to send a sympathy card to express your personal wishes and condolences to the family. Sympathy card etiquette dictates that you should address the card, and your expression therein, to the closest family member of the deceased--usually the spouse or the eldest child.

If you are more acquainted with the deceased more than you are the family, identify your relationship in your sentiments, for example, "Please accept my condolences for Bob's loss. Bob and I worked together for five years at the XYZ Company, and we all enjoyed his positive, upbeat attitude. I'll miss him." Address your sentiments to the closest family member.

If you are acquainted with the bereaved, but you didn't know the deceased, keep in mind that your show of sympathy is support for the grieving. A simple expression of your sympathy in their time of loss lets your friend know that you care, and are there for them. In this case, send your sympathy card to the person you know.

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Traditionally, sympathy gift etiquette says that an arrangement of flowers is the most accepted way of expressing your condolences. Flower arrangements come in a variety of sizes, price ranges, and compositions, most involving cut blooms and greenery.

Depending on your knowledge of the arrangements made for the grieving, you may send flower arrangements to the bereaved, or directly to the funeral home. Always make sure to include a card with the arrangement to identify yourself and express your sympathy to the family.

Flower arrangements can also include live plants--that is, potted plants and flowers able to be transplanted. If you prefer to send a live, potted plant, it is appropriate sympathy etiquette to do so. Many people favor giving a live plant because when cut flower arrangements begin to wilt, discarding them can bring on a fresh reminder of the loss.

Customarily, if you are part of a group donating towards a floral arrangement, appropriate gift etiquette says that the size of the arrangement should reflect the number of people involved in the group.

Your Message

The most critical thing to remember in sympathy gift etiquette is that your expression of condolences is meant to support and comfort those left behind. Your sympathy gift says, "I am here for you, and I am thinking of you, and I share in your loss."

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