If the person who has passed on or the person who is grieving is not a close personal friend or relative, then a sympathy card is probably sufficient. When a stronger show of emotional support is called for, you may want to consider some of the following.
Memorial Tree Plantings
Planting a tree or trees is thoughtful and symbolic way to express your condolences. Trees are a symbol of life renewed and stand as a lasting tribute. You may elect to have a seedling sent to the grieving family or have a tree planted in the honoree’s name in a national forest. Services like Plantmemorialtree.com arrange for tree planting along with sending a personalized condolence card commemorating the planting.
Flowers are always welcome. Flowers are a symbol of eternal spring, a reminder that life goes on and always comforting. Flowers should be sent to the funeral home, where they will be most appreciated. You don’t want to burden the family with having to accept deliveries of flowers at their home, and by sending them to the funeral home you will be contributing to the flower arrangements for the funeral, which can be quite expensive. Most people appreciate all the flowers they can get at a time like this, as they are a heartwarming reminder of how much the deceased was loved and respected.
As to types of flowers, it’s traditional to pick out muted arrangements, usually ones with a lot of white in them. If the person had a favorite, however, say they were fond of yellow roses, then go ahead and send them as a sign of respect. Most florists have particular types of arrangements they make for sending condolences. Most anything will be appreciated, as long as it’s not a party bouquet with a bunch of balloons!
Casseroles and Fruit Baskets
People who are grieving often have little enthusiasm for eating, let alone preparing food for themselves, which is why people are so fond of sending casseroles. If you know the family well and you are a good cook, then by all means whip up your famous recipe. Be honest with yourself, however; if you can’t make a delicious casserole or other dish, just don’t do it. And if you don’t know the family very well, or that is to say, they don’t know you very well, they may not feel comfortable eating food brought in by strangers.
Fruit baskets and other types of edible gift baskets, however, are always welcome as they are healthy, attractive and cheerful, and no one has to clean out the dish and return it afterwards.
Other Kinds of Gifts
You should always check the obituary or death announcement. Sometimes the family will request that in lieu of flowers a donation be made to the person’s favorite charity. It’s always best to respect their wishes so make sure you haven’t overlooked something.
Sharing Your Time
There are so many arrangements to be made when someone passes away that it can be quite overwhelming. If you are close friends with the bereaved, consider offering to help with the arrangements. There are also many other things you can do, from addressing thank you cards to helping out with grocery shopping, housework, babysitting, lawn mowing and all the little things that need to be done on a day to day basis but may be neglected during a time of grieving.
After the funeral is over and all of the chaos has subsided, the bereaved may suddenly feel alone and neglected, and may even be in danger of sinking into a depression. Now is the time to send a “thinking of you” sort of note, invite them to go to lunch or coffee, or drop by and offer to wash out and return all those casserole dishes. It’s very important to let them know that they aren’t forgotten, and slowly draw them out so that they can get back into the swing of things.
Your friend or relative may be reticent at first. It’s hard to feel up to going out for lunch or to a flea market or antique store or whatever when you are still feeling the pain of loss. Give them time, but don’t stop asking. You may not realize it, but just the act of inviting them is a lifeline; a sign that someone cares and has not forgotten them. One day they will say yes and until they do, it’s important that you keep in touch, send birthday cards, notes and presents or whatever and just let them know that you’re thinking about them.
Always call ahead, however; don’t just drop in or they may start to consider you a nuisance. No one likes to have people drop in unexpectedly, when they may still be in their jammies or the house may be unkempt. Always call ahead and have a reason for stopping by, even if it’s just to bring some cookies, or loan them a book you found interesting. They may decline at first, in which case you can leave the cookies or book or photos or whatever on their doorstep. These little kindnesses go a long way, and eventually they will change out of their jammies, clean the house and invite you in!