Thursday, 26 February 2015

Bereavement Etiquette


Some people think that giving flowers to the bereaved is not the done thing.
I think that it to do with the fact that in many people's eyes, flowers around a death are only seen on a coffin.
I tend to disagree.
To me a few flowers say a tiny bit more than a mere card can and anyway
I hate most of the sympathy cards on sale in the shops.
They always seem like the paper equivalent of the colour beige.

A neighbour lost her mother suddenly today, so I went around with a card and some blue hyacinths in a bowl. If it was summer I would have cut flowers from the garden.. Its a bit more personal, and it gives people something to concentrate on.
I do like the tradition of feeding the bereaved too..its more practical......but I think this is more of an American thing.

Anyhow what IS the flower etiquette after a family death occurs?
Is there a right and a wrong way to support others?
Perhaps someone can tell me!

Village elder, Islwyn called in this afternoon to inform me of this news and to the fact that old Mrs Spiller had also passed away. Mrs Spiller was famous for her big hair, erratic driving and her overuse of a loud policeman's whistle when calling in her bad tempered labrador on a night.
Affable Despot Jason and his wife always commented that Chapel Street sounded like Victorian London during the Jack The Ripper times- all they missed was the pea soup.




105 comments:

  1. I don't like sympathy cards either. I prefer to buy a nice message free card and write what I want inside and visit the person. Not sure about flower etiquette.

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    1. I am sure someone will say something!

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    2. When I was having a difficult time a couple of years ago, a very elderly neighbour picked a beautiful, perfect red rose from her garden and brought it round to me to make me feel better. I was so touched by that gesture. I think you just have to follow your heart with these things. I'm not very good with etiquette and having moved around the UK several times, etiquette seems to vary a lot depending on where you live x

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  2. Generally here people don't take flowers to a funeral anymore and it is quite acceptable to send a bunch to the bereaved.

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    1. At my fathers funeral, my brother threw in a book of the rules of the local conservative club !

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  3. I say do what you feel is the right thing to do. I think your gesture today was very kind and fitting, especially since the death was so sudden, the lady who lost her mother will perhaps still be in a state of shock. Usually, for the funeral, people will advise that they want 'family flowers only' or 'no flowers please but a donation to x charity would be appreciated'. Not everyone has the same appreciation for flowers. Also, copious amounts of tea-making always helps to detract a little from the sheer sadness of the event

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  4. From personal experience, I didn't like receiving the sympathy cards at all and then they became something that was very hard to eventually throw away. I received quite a few bunches of flowers and they gave me a lot of comfort at a very difficult time.

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  5. It's strange how traditions and etiquette can vary. When Andrew died the neighbours in Groes brought fruit cake and scones as well as their sympathy. I think it was so I could offer hospitality when the next visitor called. They were a lovely lot of friendly folk.

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    1. Perhaps its a Welsh thing jayne?
      Have you got your wedding frock ready

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  6. When my father died over 40 years ago my best friend at the time sent a bouquet to my mother on hearing the news. It was greatly appreciated and loved.

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    1. Funywhat you remember eh?

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  7. I like to send cards with a handwritten message and either flowers from my own garden or ones that I have picked out, like peonies, tulips, or the hyacinths...only send flowers for the funeral if they request that..food is usually taken over (here in the US, especially in the South) but you can be overwhelmed with it sometimes!

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  8. Talking from experience. It's the day after the funeral when we need flowers or people. Very kind of you John to give the lady the flowers.

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  9. we tend to donate to a charity of the deceased choice and leave the flowers up to the very close family.........

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    1. Im finding the different perspectives facinating

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  10. I like the idea of flowers for the bereaved ... especially the bulbs like the hyacinths... if they are not blooming it gives them something to look forward to a few days after the funeral... very good John...

    I'am a very private person and would not like the gathering after the funeral ... i would want to be left in peace after the funeral. Food no... just peace and privacy to grieve in my own way.... Hugs! deb

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    1. Make sure your family reads this

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  11. I think it was a kind thing for you to do John. I don't like naff bereavement cards either. When my lovely Dad died, my hubby's Uncle (who was an artist) sent a sketch he'd done on a little postcard. He wrote on the back of it, he was a smashing geezer your Dad, death is a total bastard !!!
    I stilll have it in my desk and it makes me smile, as it was meant with love and very him.
    Twiggy

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  13. Here in the south in the U.S. we always take food to the bereaved. When my in-laws died in Tennessee, there was more food than surfaces to put it upon. And what wonderful food it was!
    I think flowers are always perfect. Especially when they can be planted. I have given plants when people passed away as well as when babies have been born. Trees or flowering bushes.

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  14. I think one ought to do what they are comfortable with at the time.
    Here, it is the custom that the bereaved family states that they only want 'family flowers'. What most do is donate money to the charity that the deceased supported or one of your choice.
    I agree John, that flowers can be a nice distraction for the survivors.

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  15. it so depends on the family of the deceased...notes from my father's friends and students telling us of their fondest memories are great treasures to us...donations to a favorite charity are my personal choice...but have delivered a basket of assorted perennials to add to a memory garden to one family and books of stamps for the thank you cards to others...
    depends on the family and how close we are...more than anything...keeping in touch after the funeral is always important..

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  16. When my mother died a few years ago I was a student and a card signed by all my friends saying they were thinking of me meant a lot to me.

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  17. People who have suffered a loss appreciate any and all acts of kindness...a kind word, a card, a visit, flowers, food, an offer of a ride...anything. Anything at all. Every little bit eases some pain if only for a little while and is long remembered and appreciated...

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  18. When my stepdad died on Anglesey a few years ago, after the crem they fetched all the funeral flowers back and put them in the front garden . us English folk found this a bit odd , but now I kind of like the idea

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    1. Thats a new one on me....here the flowers are left on the grave ...except in the crem......often they are removed to be used in hospitals

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    2. As a young student I worked in a residential home for the elderly, and funeral directors would drop flowers over after funerals. One arrangement I thought was so lovely I just plopped it on the central table of the dining room. Well, this was a big mistake as most of the residents knew it was a coffin arrangement straight away and got quite upset. I was too young to notice. After that, I broke them up into new arrangements!

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  19. Just entered a long comment before I signed in and lost it! I think you did what you instinctively felt was right John and I am sure that the hyacinths were greatly appreciated.

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  20. The fact that you cared enough to hand deliver the gift,would have meant so much. Flowers mean you care....we send flowers to bereaved friends...it's more personal.
    Jane x

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  21. I think any gesture like flowers, food or a card shows you are thinking of the bereaved. Xxx

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  22. I can only speak from a personal perspective but I would really appreciate those hyacinths at such a time. ;) As for cards - I only ever buy blank cards, glossy flower or landscape type ones plus a few 'man' ones/animal ones because I don't like the ones with printed messages.
    I'm pretty sure that a cake would be a lovely gift after a bereavement just to be able to offer some to visitors with a cup of tea.

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    1. Yes, blank cards are generally the answer
      Not always available in welsh wales x

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  23. In Canada people usually request a donation to a charity in the deceased name and the funeral home always gives you an addressed envelope to the charity of choice. Flowers are usually those massive bouquets of glads and carnations and lilies and are usually bought as part of the funeral package, as well as sent by work, affiliations etc. Some arrangements stay on the grave, some go home with family and the rest go to nursing homes..(my mother who is in a nursing home hates this practice). I always take a potted plant like tulips or daffs, and a card with a story about the deceased. And people always send food. I always make a massive chicken stew with biscuits and it feeds a lot and re-heats nicely. People love the stew. Especially if you have kids to feed, it's nice to have meals taken care of. Much prefer a visit to the house to the dreadful "receiving Line" at the funeral.

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    1. Chicken stew.....would lift my heart

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  24. Oh...and here it seems it is ok to bring your dog to the wake after the funeral. I hosted a wake for my BIL and two people brought their large dogs who got my two large dogs all in an uproar and they stole food off the kitchen table...

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  25. I hate to hear those words, "just call if you need anything", so often uttered to the bereaved at a wake or funeral. Everybody means it in some way, but they assume that they will not get that call. The thing to do is exactly what you did, which is go over, be there, hold their hand, and be a friend. Bringing that beautiful plant was an extra.

    I always bring food for them because it is something they can serve to other people who might visit.

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    1. Sometimes platitudes are all people have to offer

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    2. The thing is, it puts the onus on the person grieving to make a request, and making requests is really hard. Sometimes an unrequested gesture is the best thing even if it is not quite right. Among my friends, the ones who say, "Just ask if I can do anything to help" never get asked, but the ones who just look, see what would help and get stuck in are the ones I keep closest to my heart.

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  26. People and relatives bring food, everyone sends flowers and plants to the funeral parlor - make that too much food and too many flowers (some funerals are 'color' coordinated - seriously). The whole place smells and feels like a funeral parlor. Flowers go along with the casket to the grave site.

    Everyone goes home after "refreshments", until somebody else dies. I think it's a sick ritual - the deceased might have liked some of that attention - beforehand.

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    1. The funeral " tea" ah yes.........many a good scene in movies btw

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  27. Hyacinths in a bowl - beautiful, fragrant, long lasting - lovely, loving hoice. When Bill died suddenly 7 years ago this week in cold grey February, soup, scones and a pie were so welcome so were short visits from friends and neighbors, gifts in his memory to a homeless shelter and some 400 cards which I have saved. Thank you John for your blog, your kindness.
    Joy, health, love and peace to you and Chris.

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    1. Judith, the fact that you can remember what food you were given means that the gesture was wonderfully important

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  28. I think that you did exactly the right thing! Could not have done better. Yes, the food thing is common in America, but I see no reason why you should not spread the kind thought here too! I am sure that your flowers were greatly appreciate and a meal, or just a cake would be too.

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  29. A colleague's 8 year-old son died last Summer, and another colleague was scared shitless about what to say when he met up with him, as he had to do. Hospital infection from a minor cricket injury operation.

    The man asked him if he would cast his dead son's hand in bronze, and this was agreed, though he still hasn't done it. The other bloke was shit-scared about what to say. I told him to say nothing until asked to, because everyone knew, and besides, what do you say?

    I have seen the father a few times since then and have never mentioned it until it was brought up.

    He said, "My son died last Summer."

    I said, "I know."

    We moved on from there.

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    1. I seewhat you mean but i kind of disagree as i think its important to mention the deceased first.....if a person does not want to talk about them, then they just wont and you can then follow their lead.

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  30. Unless specified otherwise I take/send flowers or a plant to a funeral, and for family or close friends I'll also take food to wherever the folks will gather after the services. Definitely the American thing, they even have foods specifically named for the occasion... like 'funeral potatoes'. A handwritten note is what I include, rather than a card. If they request no flowers then I will donate that amount of money to a charity I feel would be appropriate, like a cancer society, and so on.

    I like to follow up a few weeks later with a bit more food and a letter or phone call; often people have 'moved on' by then, when the loss hits loved ones the hardest.

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  31. Here in Oz we give flowers. Close friends call into the house with flowers and hugs, sometimes with food for the wake also. Sharing your sadness with friends as well as relatives helps, I think. You did well John.
    PS Not so many flowers actually at the funeral these days, mainly floral tributes from the family on the coffin.

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  32. My mother died two weeks ago and her funeral was last Tuesday in a tiny Norman church in the Cotswolds. We asked for family flowers only and donations towards two charities she "worked for" and was assisted by. During the two week intermission while I sorted the hymns and wrote the eulogy for my son to deliver, my Grove leader brought me three pots of three hyacinths, whose perfume now pervades the house. I was very touched. Friends of my father, who is now completely alone in the middle of nowhere (two fields to the nearest house, two miles to the nearest village on the top of a hill) apart from his hens, as the four visits a day from care staff have now stopped, dropped in with two plum crumbles the day after she died and later with a salmon microwave meal. He was very touched by their kindness and enjoyed them all. Thankfully his apetite has actually increased since my mother died since he is no longer spending an hour feeding her each meal time whilst standing up and then being too tired to eat himself.

    We have both received a lovely selection of condolence cards. I have found them comforting to know other are thinking of me. It took my father until the day before the funeral to open his cards, but he has now read them all and put them up for visitors to share.

    We have been lucky, in that her death was not sudden or unexpected. She was cared for at home apart from two short hospital stays for the entire ten years of her ischaemic dementia, with my father constantly at her side. As a former relief organist for several parishes, she played for many funerals. She said it was flowers which made the sadness bareable. I know she would have enjoyed the bouquet we chose for her.

    My daughter's mother in law made us a beautiful "wake cake" and her matron of honour's catering business provided the food. My children and their partners arranged the tables and chairs in the village hall, served the food and drink and did all the clearing up. It was the great-grandchildren who provided the entertainment at the wake, happily playing chase with my cousin's 4 year old and hiding behind the curtains. They, together with the wild arrays of snowdrops and aconites in the grass verges, brought out the true meaning of the circle of life.

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    1. Sarah,
      A post very dear to your heart i think.....thank you for commenting....especially as this is a very raw time for you and your family.
      I think its the " effort" that people make that touches the heart rather than the gift itself!
      Take care of yourself
      Jx

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  33. Here in states, I see fewer flowers and more donations to charity. I do appreciate flowers, though for a decade after my grandfather's funeral, roses reminded me of him, after my mother-in-law it was the scent of lilies (her name was Lillian.) Cut flowers have a limited life, going to the cemetery (or being sent onto local care facilities) plants, bulbs and terrariums (does anyone do them anymore?) bring joy for a longer time.

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    1. I just had to google terratium
      Very 1980s

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  34. Those flowers smell so nice. I didn't read through all of your comments, but usually the obit shares the wishes of the family. At least in the U.S.

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  35. I send flowers to the family. If the family has chosen a charity I donate to it.
    Later after all the family and friends leave and everyone has gone back to their life's, I send a card to tell them I am thinking of them and bring dinner with all the extras.
    I have made my own condolence card that has a wonderful quote of the Native Nation of Alaska.

    I think you should do what feels the best.
    Your gift of flowers was very appreciated I am sure.

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  36. Hey John: When I was a kid, I remember my parents sending a card with money in it (or at the wake/funeral, dropping money in with the card in the box there) - now, I didn't realize why and I have never asked, but I'm assuming it is because, er, how can I say this, that we lived in a blue collar neighborhood? The money was to help with the funeral costs, I think. I really should ask my Mom about this instead of assuming.
    Flowers, a card, food, a donation to charity - they are all wonderful in my opinion. And blue hyacinths are so beautiful!

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    1. Carol
      A while ago , i wrote a blog about two village miners that were killed in 1890 ..over 2000 people came to their funeral in the village
      And typical of the time there was a collection at the church gates for the families of the two men....

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    2. Oh shoot, I missed that post. I see that helping families w/money in certain communities was something done at a certain time, on both sides of the pond. x

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  37. Having just lost my brother two weeks ago, I have to say that we just appreciated being thought of. The flowers that were sent were really lovely and enjoyed. Those that brought over food was also very much appreciated. I've received cards since I've been home, and I must say that I was again touched by those friends that took the time to think of me and send one.

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    1. I read that he had died kim.....you have been through an emotional wringer over the last twelve months

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  38. I think flowers used to be the thing to do, and now it's give money to a charity designated by the family. I like what you did, though. It's very sweet and thoughtful. Cards seem kind of silly to me. In the U.S. we are very big on taking food to the family. When my dad died, we had so much food we couldn't eat it all.

    Love,
    Janie

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  39. I think the hyacinths were a lovely touch John.
    My family has a 'tradition' of NOT ever sending flowers to hospitals (they routinely get removed from the wards) or immediately after a death, but waiting a month and sending a card and flowers then. By a month, very one has 'moved on' but the person grieving is often feeling particularly lonely by then.

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    1. A good point virginia.......after a few weeks the support often just drops away does it not?

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  40. I think the most important thing is being present- showing up is a simple, yet crucial, act of solidarity. One of my co-workers just lost his dad last Saturday. We talked a lot about his dad's illness over the past three months or so- they were estranged, but I told him the right thing to do was to visit his dad in his illness so that they could make their peace. Luckily, he did so, which cuts down on a lot of self-recrimination.

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    1. Yes guilt is a dreadful thing to cope with after a death.......i was very lucky when my parents died ......i didnt have the guilt , i could have had

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  41. My mother cherished the cards, notes and letters sent when my dad died suddenly. She read them over and over and they were a great comfort to her. We do not send food, a wake would be catered, if only from the local deli. Flowers usually only from family, sent to the memorial service. Handwritten card and personal condolence visit are important. Other than not paying the condolence call, no one would notice or care if you did the ''wrong'' thing, as it would have been well-meant. I m from east coast of the US.

    your hyacinths are beautiful, what a lovely gesture.

    Lizzy

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  42. For some reason here we do feed the bereaved I always try to think of different gifts that are often over looked...coffee and postage stamps are kinda my signature.

    Mother always said, Give me flowers when I'm living. I won't care when I'm dead.

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  43. I have actually never heard of giving flowers to the family, but it is a nice thing to do (provided there are no allergies in the household). Here the wishes of the deceased/family are stated in the obituary and are almost always "family flowers only, donations to xyz". For closer friends, food is usually given. And always, always a card. I personally appreciate the food and cards the most. Isn't it odd how customs are so different around the world? I think the main thing is to do something, anything - so the family knows they are not alone.

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  44. As others have said, in the southern states in the U.S. it's traditional to bring food to the family of the deceased as soon as possible after hearing of the death. The thinking is that soon the home will be filled with relatives and friends throughout the process of the wake (or "sitting up" ), the funeral, and after the burial. No one in the throes of grief is expected to cook or worry about feeding visitors. Literally every surface will be overflowing with wonderful food--people will usually try to make whatever dish or recipe they're known for. Usually there is a lot of fried chicken, baked hams, casseroles, pies, cakes, and all kinds of things.

    Flowers and live plants are still commonly sent, and coffins are usually covered with sprays of flowers during the funeral service. Then all of the flowers are taken to the the gravesite to cover the mound after the burial. Homes with a death in the family used to have a white floral wreath on the front door, but I'm not sure how common that is these days.

    It also used to be customary for cars to pull off the road and wait for passing funeral processions, as a gesture of respect. I don't see that much anymore either.

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  45. In the Jewish religion, one should not send flowers (don't know why). But for 7 days the family sits "shiva" and everyone brings food and the family isn't alone. That's the more Orthodox way of things. When my parents passed, friends sent flowers and I thought it was beautiful.

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    1. Apparently we don't send flowers to Jewish families when there has been a death because flowers die. I recently learned this when a Jewish neighbour's mother died.

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  46. I once gave a friend a potted pink hyacinth for her birthday. She didn't hold back on her criticism; I learned my lesson.

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    1. Pfffft on that Cro, I adore it when someone gives me a living flower I can re-plant; then I can smile at the memories for years to come.

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    2. Ah, shame on your friend, Cro! The only lesson you should take away is not to give her presents from now on! But others would love your gift.

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  47. I like the idea of food, it seems so nice to not have to think about dinner, breakfast, lunch etc at a time like that. I do like flowers but I think it's nice to repurpose them afterward...I've heard of giving them to nursing homes which is nice. And I had someone give me a tree sapling once, which seemed odd at the time but was very cathartic in planting later.

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  48. I cannot STAND it when a funeral notice says in lieu of flowers. I want to take flowers to a funeral. I want the people who have lost someone they love to have something beautiful to take home with them. I remember when people did that for me and it meant a lot to me. :)

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    1. I think whats comming over loud and clear is do what you think is right

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  49. I believe in celebrating a persons life when they have passed on. At a funeral I went to not so long ago nobody was allowed to wear anything black, by the order of the lady who had died who had chosen to be not in a coffin but a wicker basket. All this being black and morbid dates from Victorian times and the sooner we get away from it the better.

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    1. My great aunt requested that everyone dressed in bright colourful clothes for her funeral and there was to be NO alcohol! That was over 30 years ago. Where we live, everyone wears black to a funeral.

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  50. I think you pot of flowers was highly acceptable.

    Sounds like Under Milk Wood !

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  51. I hate bereavment cards John and always write a letter, however brief. If the bereaved person is near enough for flowers then I take those round too. Having lost a husband some years ago, the gift I found the most touching at the time was a cake, and that was brought round to the house by one of the Marie Curie nurses who had been there overnight for several nights.

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    1. Ive bought my daffodil today pat!

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  52. Your right about feeding the bereaved - it is an American thing, and I never understood it. Flowers are definitely more warm and personal than a printed sympathy card.

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    1. Should be "you're" not "your".
      Why do I constantly make mistakes when I leave comments??

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    2. Flowers and the odd scotch egg would suit me better methinks

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  53. I didn't even realise there was an etiquette around giving flowers. I hate all the 'rules' around such things, I do what I think is right for each individual. I would have loved to be given a pot of hyacinths when my dad died as he always gave me a pot of them every Xmas.

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  54. Reading this post and the responses has made me be thankful for there being so many lovely people in the world.

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  55. A death often leaves people not knowing what to say and I think that's where bereavement cards can be helpful. Food is a very thoughtful gift I think, because in grief people often aren't bothered about cooking or eating and having something on hand that has been given in kindness is encouraging. I think the hyacinths were a lovely idea

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    1. I think i prefer weaver's thoughts on this subject ...a blank card, or paper with your own words

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    2. When you are feeling all alone at the time of a death it doesn't matter if it is the most naff card in the world it is just so nice to know someone is thinking of you.

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  56. When my father died, many years ago now, we took all the flowers home from the crem and placed them under his apple tree outside his home of 20 years. It was very comforting to see neighbours and passers by just reading the cards and pausing by outside the house.
    Unfortunately the local council chose the day he died to slap a compulsory purchase order on his house, and we were faced with emptying the contents from the family home out in the following few weeks.

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  57. Here in the US we do feed...due to the fact there are many family members coming in and for the family not to have to cook. Many times when a friend has lost a family member we have gifted a tree to be planted in memory of.....something that will last. As will the bulbs which can be used over and over.

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  58. I don't think there is any flower etiquette when people die. But flowers can cheer up a house that is in mourning. Personally, I prefer the idea of living flowers - like your bowl of hyacinths because all cut flowers are gradually dying the minute they are cut.

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  59. I don't think there is any flower etiquette when people die. But flowers can cheer up a house that is in mourning. Personally, I prefer the idea of living flowers - like your bowl of hyacinths because all cut flowers are gradually dying the minute they are cut.

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    1. Yes ..........a little bit of cheer is always appreciated methinks

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  60. I think flowers are always positive. In my mind they remind us that every living thing has a beginning and an end. Death is just part of the whole natural process. I have always tried to help by not turning anyone away if they just want to talk about a loved one. I have often broken a very difficult silence simply by asking the bereaved about the loved one they have just lost. Talking is so important.

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    1. Yes, so many people cannot verbalise anything about the elephant in theroom

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  61. Worked for an insurance company for 8 years, I've forgotten how many death claims I've submitted. But it never got any easier, people react to death in so many different ways.

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    1. I bet you witnessed the good and the bad in people

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  62. The only etiquette should be to do what your heart tells you to do. Flowers for the living is a lovely idea, I bet they and your visit were very appreciated.

    The cards are welcome too in the weeks around a death as I think they show that people care and are thinking about you, they just need choosing carefully ... some of the verses are dire, better a simple card with a short handwritten message sometimes.

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  63. The flowers you took over are perfect, John. That, and your sincere sympathy are just right.
    Plufrompdx

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  64. When my brother died many years ago (I was in my late teens), the house was filled to overflowing with flowers. It sickened me. There was even a wreath shaped like a cross on the coffee table. ..left there for weeks. I felt like I was walking into a funeral parlour every time I walked in the door. Years on, and many deaths later, I realise that the flowers brought great comfort to my parents. They were a symbol of the fact that others shared their grief. These days I always send a letter, sharing memories of the deceased, and call round with a freshly baked fruit cake. (If I'm baking a fruit cake for home use, my grandchildren have been known to ask "Who died?"). I also think it's important to mention the deceased when you see their family members later...share funny memories. Just let them know their loved one hasn't been forgotten.

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  65. I'd like my friends and family to have an amazing get to together and party like THEY would never die! (It would also be nice to be able to have put plenty of money aside by me to pay for it lol!.
    I like the idea of a bunch of flowers for the survivors or something they can put garden afterwards. I have a small clump of snowdrops, know in the family as , 'Auntie Margys' snowdrops, as they came from her garden after her husband died and when her family were clearing the house and garden ready for her to go to the nursing home. I have been know to say,' 'Morning Aunty Margy' in the direction of the snowdrops! xxx

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