The Etiquette of Sympathy Flowers | Do Say Give

The Etiquette of Sympathy Flowers


Sympathy flowers

It’s a time-honored tradition to send flowers when a friend or loved one is grieving. When words fail us, or if we can’t be there to mourn in person, flowers are a way to express love, support, and condolences. There’s a fine line between what’s appropriate and what isn’t as far as flower arrangements go, and we wanted to explore that today with someone who knows the ins and outs of floral etiquette.

We had the chance to talk to Claire Rathbun, a florist in Dallas, TX, about when to send flowers, where to send them, types of arrangements, and more about this delicate subject. We found it so helpful and hope you do, too.

White sympathy flowers

How to Find a Good Florist

Whatever the occasion, finding a good local florist will usually yield much lovelier arrangements than ordering from a mass-market company. Particularly in the case of sympathy flowers, when the flowers mean so much more than a simple arrangement.

But how do you find a good local florist in another city? Ask another friend who lives in the city or check Instagram by searching local hashtags like #dallasflorist. Another great resource for finding a local florist in any city is Just type in the zip code where the flowers will be delivered, and they’ll help you find the someone local.

Even if the florist have online ordering, I like to make a quick phone call to ensure what they send is exactly what I want in terms of size, style, and type. (More on that below!).

Tip: I often ask the local florist if they can snap a quick photo of the finished arrangement and text it to me. This adds a little accountability and most florists are happy to do it. 

Types of Flowers to Send

First things first, what types of flowers are the best to send? The biggest question is usually surrounding color, according to Claire Rathbun, and she says that white is always a tasteful choice when it comes to sympathy flowers.

“An idea that is on-trend right now, not only for sympathy flowers for for any occasion, is using one color of flower en masse; such as all sophisticated purple hues or all pale yellow hues. For me, yellow is such a bright, happy, uplifting color,” says Claire. “The arrangement doesn’t necessarily need to look like a sympathy arrangement, so you need not always order from the “sympathy” section of a florist’s offerings.”

If the person in remembrance had a favorite flower, that would be thoughtful to include. Traditional sympathy flowers are lilies, white roses, orchids, and irises — however, breaking from tradition to include something that is in season is perfectly appropriate. 

To ensure that you’re sending an elegant, tasteful arrangement, feel free to request swapping out any leather-leaf fern for another type of greenery that the florist has on hand. A plant is another thoughtful way to go, and is usually longer lasting than a floral arrangement.

yellow flower arrangement

Where and When to Send A Floral Arrangement

Once you decide on an arrangement, if you are unsure where to send the flowers, Claire recommends sending the flowers to the residence instead of a church or funeral home. This guarantees the recipients receives the flowers and knows who they were from. 

“I like to recommend sending flowers to the residence as soon as possible after hearing the news, or a few days after the service,” says Claire. This way, your gift arrives at a time your loved one needs it most. But remember that there is always time to express love and support, so give yourself grace if you miss this window. We’ve all gone through difficult times and know that flowers mean just as much a few weeks or month down the road. 

Note: during the Jewish tradition of mourning called Shiva or “sitting Shiva” it is usually discouraged to send flowers. Send food to the family or consider planting a tree in the family member’s honor. 

white roses in sympathy arrangement

Different Types of Ceremony Flowers

If you want to send an arrangement specifically for the ceremony,  there are two traditional types of arrangements: casket and standing easel arrangements. Casket arrangements are usually taken care of by the family but it something a close friend could offer to gift. Standing arrangements can be sent by friends but the important thing, as we said before, is that these are tastefully done.

We recommend, as does Claire, ordering through an upscale event, wedding, or reputable florist that also does sympathy flowers. The final product will be more beautiful than one you’d receive from an online service, and you’d also have more say in what flowers are used. Just keep in mind that these arrangements can be costly depending on flower type and stem count.

“In this time of COVID, live-streaming a service has become quite a common practice,” says Claire. “Having a floral arrangement during these streams can create a background of warmth and beauty, while also honoring the deceased.”

close up of flower arrangement

The art of sending sympathy flowers is one that is such a lovely tradition and, at the end of the day, it’s the sentiment that matters most. But hopefully with these tips to keep in mind, it will make ordering them an easier process.

Claire Rathbun is a floral based in Dallas, TX and owner of Claire Rathbun Floral Design, which creates florals for events, weddings, gifts and everything in between. Follow her work on Instagram at @claire_rathbun_floral



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