So, you’ve been invited to a funeral, and you’re probably wondering what the protocol is when it comes to funeral gifts. Traditionally, people send flowers, cards, or donations. Some people don’t bring anything along. Which begs the question, how do you know if you should bring something to the family of the deceased? Let’s talk about funeral gifting etiquette 101 with some ideas on what you should bring to a funeral.
Should you Always Give a Gift at a Funeral?
A gift is never required for attending a funeral. Your presence can be a gift in and of itself. Many times, funerals fall during the week in the middle of the day. That means, guests generally have to take off work to attend so already, the simple act of being there lets the grieving family know you care and are sorry for their loss, especially if you are traveling in from out of town. That being said, a gift would always be welcomed and appreciated.
If you aren’t able to make it to the funeral, a gift can be a nice gesture. Many people choose to send flowers as a traditional way to offer condolences. There is a helpful article here from Teleflora for advice on floral arrangements. Also, consider choosing a local florist in the town of the deceased (we obviously love supporting small businesses!) who would be familiar with the area funeral homes and cemeteries.
Whether you are on a budget or not, I strongly recommend sending a card or bringing one to the funeral. When we lost our second son Cooper at 36 weeks and held a graveside funeral service, I was overwhelmed by the amount of snail mail cards we received. Each and every envelope that showed up in our mailbox touched my heart and offered me bits of hope in an otherwise dark time. I still have those sympathy cards years later and even read through them on the first anniversary of losing our son. If you are worried about what to write in a sympathy card, check out this helpful Laurelbox blog to see some suggestions and examples. I can attest a 99 cent card with a few heartfelt lines and encouragement can be more meaningful than a $100 bouquet. So don’t let budget be an excuse not to acknowledge the loss.
In lieu of a tangible funeral home gift, you could consider asking the family what you can do to help with the funeral.
There might be a relative who doesn’t drive and you could offer to shuttle them to and from the service. Many times, friends want to bring food to the family and this can be a great way to offer support. Make sure to check with your friend (or a relative who is coordinating meals) to find out what would be most helpful. The platform Take Them A Meal is an easy way to rally friends and loved ones to participate in a meal train. You could also offer to help find someone to stay at their home during the funeral. Unfortunately, sometimes thieves scour obituary notices to specifically target homes when they know the family will be away. It happened to this family in Texas so making sure a neighbor or friend is keeping an eye on the house might offer some assurances to the family. Nothing would be worse than having to deal with a home break-in during an already terrible and upsetting time!
Consider What the Family Needs
Take a few minutes and think about who specifically the family lost and his or her impact. Was it a parent to young children? The surviving spouse might need help with school drop offs or pick ups. Was the deceased the one who kept up the exterior of their home? Offer to cut the grass, shovel snow, or help with other tasks that the family might not be ready to handle just yet. If your friend lost their elderly parent, consider offering help to go through the house and sort items. In addition to grieving a loved one, dealing with the “business” of death can be daunting.
Keep in mind there may be actual tasks you could do before or after the wake or funeral service that could help the family. Many times, families bring pictures and mementos to honor the person and display them. Gathering those items and delivering them to the home could be very thoughtful. Same goes for floral arrangements that the family may want to keep after the service concludes.
Ideas for a Funeral Gift
Card with a donation
In some instances, the family will ask in lieu of flowers, a donation be made to a charity, church or specific cause. If that happens, follow their wishes. This helpful article from Emily Post offers good advice on if you’d like to send flowers in addition to a donation.
Gift baskets are always a beautiful and thoughtful gesture. Harry & David sympathy baskets are never out of style and offer an array of options.
Personalized Remembrance Gifts
Personalized remembrance gifts are a way for your funeral gift to continue being meaningful for months and years to come. Some items I have received in honor of our son that I still cherish today are Christmas ornaments, the Shining Bright birthday candle and the Forget Me Not mug. Consider building a Laurelbox yourself of items you think the grieving friend would appreciate.
Gifting Services and Time
Your time will always be a gift to your grieving friend. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “Time is a created thing. To say “I don’t have time,” is like saying “I don’t want to.”
Be a good friend and carve out a few hours to offer your time in whatever way is helpful. It could be babysitting for the family, helping clean the house or even offering to help write thank you notes for bereavement gifts and flowers. As I said earlier, it could be organizing a Meal Train for the family. Maybe your friend doesn’t need anything more than your offer to bring her favorite coffee over and hear stories about the life of the person lost. So many times, we don’t take the time to listen and just be present for our loved ones without offering our own advice or suggestions. Just sit with your friend and listen to them, cry with them or look out the window with them. They’ll talk when they're ready if you let them.