The etiquette of sympathy flowers

The etiquette of sympathy flowers


Giving flowers can mean any number of things; ‘Congratulations’, ‘I love you’, ‘Get well soon’ - even ‘I’m sorry’.


And it’s easy if you know what the receiver likes, and what you’re trying to say.  But what if you don’t?  Flowers are also the perfect way to express your condolence or sympathy.  But it’s hard to know what to say, especially in a sensitive situation or if you don’t know them all that well.


Flowers can mean anything - it’s actually a science we like to call Floriography and dates back to Victorian times when flowers were used to send coded messages or express feelings that couldn’t be spoken about.  


We don’t need to be quite so covert these days.  But it can still be overwhelming knowing what to do for the best, and you might just need a little bit of advice.   


You can find a comprehensive list here of flowers and their meanings.  But for when the occasion is less celebratory, we have put together the following key points to help you say it brilliantly, when you aren’t sure how.


How to say it with flowers

Loss or sad news can be tough to respond to, funerals especially.  But you can pay your respects by offering sympathy flowers.  

Some families may state ‘no flowers’ or ‘family only flowers’, and these wishes should be respected.  They may offer an alternative such as a charity donation, either online, or at the service - which the undertakers will co ordinate.

However, if there is no express wish for limited flowers, it is a traditionally British way to offer your condolences, whether they be funeral flowers for the grave, or a thoughtful gesture for the family.  

It’s particularly valuable if you can’t attend the funeral but want to send a message of support and sympathy.

It can be hard to know what to send.  It’s useful to think about what colours they might have liked.  And also whether you want to celebrate their personality with bright and vibrant hues, or opt for a more traditional arrangement.  Traditionally funeral flowers are white or cream, with pastels.  Some families choose blooms in a favourite colour of the deceased.

Usually, it is for the family only to contribute the arrangement for the coffin.  These can be as elaborate or simple as is suitable for them.  

Flat spray arrangements are a classic choice.  You wouldn’t usually see a wreath arrangement for a funeral; and neither should these be purchased in sympathy - these are more for remembrance for birthdays or at Christmas.  

Where flowers are welcomed at a bereavement service or funeral, you will likely see them in the church, or at burials, they are commonly placed from the funeral cars to the grave like a walk way for the family to pass through.  Either a posie or tribute can work well here.  There’s an alternative option to send something direct to the family home such as a tied sheave.

White lilies are the most common sympathy flower following death.  They symbolise the innocence that is restored to the soul of the departed.  

Carnations are also a popular choice - pink carnations stand for remembrance.   Or the Gladioli which elegantly arranged in a fan spray, stands for strength of character, morality and integrity.  



What do I say?

It’s not just about picking the right flowers; what to say on the card is frequently difficult for anyone experiencing loss.  

It is best to keep it short, but heartfelt.  With hope, the bereaved will receive various well wishes and sympathy thoughts.  Some find it easy to express their feelings, while others need support.  

You can be personal, leave an inspirational saying or quote, or simply write ‘in deepest sympathy’.  Or you can write something symbolic of the flowers or gift you have chosen; perhaps explaining something more unusual such as Chrysanthemums and Cyclamens, which mean eternity, serenity and immortality



 “I am so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers  are with you during this difficult time”

 "What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us." -Helen Keller

We are sorry for your loss. (NAME), has left a hole in our hearts, but (HE/SHE) will live on in our memories forever”Such a great loss.  I want you to know friends who love you surround you. And we are here for you  


Words cannot express the sadness we feel for you dealing with the death of (NAME).  If we can provide you comfort, know our thoughts are with you


(NAME’s) pain is gone and it is our turn to deal with sorrow.  Please let me know of any way I can help you


Unfamiliar / colleague

I was deeply saddened by the news of (NAME’s) passing. My heartfelt condolences to you and your family.

We were coworkers of (NAME). Words cannot express our sorrow. The office won’t be the same without (HIM/HER). (NAME) will be missed.

May the memories of (NAME) help you find peace.


You and your family are in our prayers. Sorry to hear of your loss.


Sorry to hear about your (MOTHER/FATHER/UNCLE/ect.) It's never easy. My prayers are with you and your family.


I learned of (NAME’s) untimely death. I want to offer my deepest condolences


When shall I make contact?

Put yourself in the shoes of the bereaved.  You don’t want to be bombarded with immediate well wishers on the phone or calling at the door.

It’s a British tradition to ensure the family know you are thinking of them, but there are many ways to do it.

As well as flowers, you may want to consider sending a mass card.  Spiritual wishes can help those grieving, but you should consider if it’s appropriate for the receiver. 

Writing letters, or sending messages can be a great way to gauge a response for when is the right time to visit or call.  

If you are sending funeral flowers, these should be received on the day to ensure best quality.  Your florist will be able to arrange this for you.  And Urban Design Flowers guarantees on time delivery.  

Sympathy flowers can be sent at any time, but ensure they are delivered to their personal address.  Not a workplace or otherwise.



If you feel like you need any help, your florist is skilled and trained to do that.  Not only picking the right flowers, but advising on specific situational etiquette and suitability of gift packages and best delivery times.

For more information on support when arranging a funeral, or advice on expressing your sympathy, don’t hesitate to get in touch at [contact details]