You're currently on:

Sympathy Traditions and Ceremonies

When a death occurs, sending plants and flowers honors the deceased, comforts the bereaved and adds meaning and beauty to the funeral and other sympathy ceremonies.

Knowing the basics of of sympathy ceremonies and traditions can help friends and family make good choices when sending plants and flowers during a difficult time. This overview from can help.

Visitation. Also called a viewing or wake - a time during which friends, family and associates pay their respects to the family. The body is placed in the casket for viewing. Tradition and family preference determines whether or not the casket is open or closed. Many families display photos and cherished possessions.

Held a day or two before the funeral, it is sometimes followed or preceded by a prayer servicem which is typically only open to close family and friends.

Friends and family who live far away or cannot attend may send a plant or flowers to the funeral home as soon as they hear of the death. The gift is typically placed on display, symbolizing the love and respect for the deceased. Such gifts symbolize love, thoughtfulness, respect and offer the sense that the lost life had value.

Funeral Service. A funeral held in a chapel, church or other place of worship is the most traditional way to honor a death. The body is often present, held in a casket. An ordained minister of faith presides over the service. Sometimes, family members and friends will share thoughts, prayers and memories with a speech called a “eulogy.”

Unless the family requests a private service, a funeral is typically announced in local newspapers and church bulletin, and can be attended by anybody who would like to participate in this “farewell.”

Typically a floral arrangement called a casket spray decorates the casket, with large decorative bouquets or plants, called altar flowers, placed prominently on the altar or stage. The main funeral flowers are usually provided by the family though anybody can send plants or flowers.

The Burial. A burial service is conducted at the grave site, tomb, mausoleum or crematorium. Sometimes, the burial service will immediately follow the funeral, in which case a funeral procession travels from the site of the memorial service to the burial site. The body of the decedent is buried or cremated at the conclusion. Only close family and friends attend the burial service.

For the ceremony itself, the casket spray and altar flowers from the funeral are often brought to the graveside. After the ceremony, it is appropriate for friends and family to bring plants and flowers when visiting the grave.

The Memorial Service. Many families prefer to honor their loss with a secular service in which the body is not present. Like the Funeral Service, the memorial service offers a way for family and friends to share thoughts, prayers and memories through speeches, poetry and song. Unless publicly announced, Memorial Services are private events in which attendance is by invitation only.

Flowers are usually provided by the immediate family or very close friends. Typically a floral arrangement or plant is placed prominently on the altar or stage. For a memorial service, close friends and family who are invited but unable to attend can send flowers or plants as a way to indicate their caring from afar.

The “Wake,” Luncheon or Celebration of Life. In many traditions, a meal or gathering is held after the funeral and burial services. They are typically held in a church hall, funeral home, private room in a restaurant, or in the home or private club of a close friend or family member. The after-event allows friends and family a time for convivial conversation, the sharing of happy memories and a sense that life goes on.

Unless publicly announced, Memorial Services are private events in which attendance is by invitation only.

A Personal Gesture. Whether or not you attend the funeral events, it is important reach out to friends and family with love and support during this difficult time. Personally delivering or sending plants or flowers to the home of the bereaved, with a short personal note, lets them know of your caring and support. It is appropriate to send a sympathy gift up to a month after the funeral.

When giving plants to show sympathy, it is the gesture, not the gift itself, that symbolizes your deepest caring. Even after you send someone a sympathy card it is important to stay in touch with a phone call or a visit. Send a note, plant or flowers to say "We’re Thinking of You.”