It does not matter whether you were close to the deceased or had a casual relationship. When someone dies, it is difficult to know what to do for the bereaved. One of the best and most thoughtful ways to express your condolences is with flowers or a gift.
Surrounding the dead with memorials made of flowers is probably the oldest form of tributes to the deceased. In 1951, Dr. Ralph Solecki, a Smithsonian Institute scientist, discovered many burial sites in the Shandiar Cave of northern Iraq. Soil samples collected from around the graves revealed that there were pollen and flower fragments within the samples, indicating the presence of at least eight different wildflowers. It was further determined from the soil samples that the age of these flower fragments and pollen were from about 62,000 B.C. Given this discovery, historians know that throughout history flowers have played an important and symbolic part of the human mourning process.
The main reason flowers and gifts are given to express sympathy to the bereaved is the symbolism floral arrangements and gifts represent. Memorializing a deceased person with flowers and living plants expresses compassion, love, respect and friendship. Sympathy flowers and gifts remind the grieving of life and shared loss, and they give comfort. Spiritually, flowers represent eternal life and immortality. Sending gifts of sympathy to the bereaved lifts the gloom of death surrounding the moment and shows the grieving how deeply you care.
Selecting an appropriate floral arrangement or gift for the bereaved depends on the relationship you have with them or the deceased, and the type of service to be held for the deceased. If you were close to the deceased person or his family, it would be appropriate to send a floral wreath, cross or casket cover. For more casual relationships, sending a bouquet, floral arrangement or basket, potted plant or small tree will express your sympathy well.
Sometimes alternative gifts can be given to memorialize the deceased long term. Many communities have established places where a tree can be planted in memory of the deceased. You could establish a memory garden either at a family member's home, the deceased person's church, a local park or other favorite place. Instead of a garden, a garden statue is a good substitute.
Timing is important when planning to send a floral arrangement for the family of the deceased. Schedule the arrangement to be delivered to the funeral home before the first visitation occurs. If, for some reason, that is not possible, it is acceptable to send your sympathy flowers or gift directly to the family residence. In many incidences, this may be preferred because it not only directly comforts the grieving family but is more personal. You can send your gift or flowers to the family home up to a month after the funeral or memorial service has taken place.
Proper etiquette requires the family of the deceased to acknowledge all sympathy gifts by sending the giver a thank you or acknowledgment card. Most funeral homes have these cards available for the family, and they can include a pre-printed message of the family's choosing. You can decide whether to include a personal, handwritten note on the card, depending on the relationship of the recipient to the deceased and family. Cards should be sent two to four weeks after the service for the deceased.