Many years ago someone said to me, upon entering a chapel filled with beautiful flowers, that each felt like a hug. I realize flowers wither and die, and that seems to be a popular argument for omitting flowers from a funeral. It may be helpful to consider a different point of view: I choose to bring flowers to my wife on special occasions and I have never heard her counsel me to stop doing this because the flowers don’t last. The beauty and the visual statement that expresses someone cares is meaningful to people coping with grief and loss. The flowers may not last, but the caring gesture is long remembered.
Caveat: it’s important to consider the cultural and religious background of the recipient. If the deceased and family are Jewish, flowers are less appropriate and a donation to a favorite charity is suggested. Alternately, food can be taken or sent to the home of families sitting Shiva for the week following the funeral. For a deceased person of Asian descent, it is better to avoid red flowers, as red is viewed as a “happy color.” Specify yellow and white instead.
There are many ways to show we care and, of course, flowers aren’t the only means. Some people say, “let me know if you need anything.” Other people just show up and do things. I am reminded of my friends Bob and Jan Litchard who, upon learning of a neighbor’s sudden death, gently and unobtrusively took care of the lawn, cleaned the kitchen, washed and put gas in their car, prepared meals, and sensed when to clear out and give the family some space. Bob and Jan could have offered to help, but likely would not have been asked to help because people don’t want to impose on their friends and family.
When my father died, Jamie and Beth McConaty showed up out of the blue with a wonderful meal. My mother still talks about how much that meant to her. Some other things you might consider: a couple dozen donuts to the family’s home the morning of the funeral, shoveling snow when needed, babysitting to allow some free time for a hair appointment or just to get away for a bit, taking the dog to the groomer, transporting family and friends from or to the airport, a phone call on the anniversary of the death to share you know and care about the significance of the day, inviting the widow or widower to a movie or dinner, offering to coordinate and help plant annuals in the garden, and so on.