Alternatives to flowers for funerals & other misfortunes

I lost my mother a couple of weeks ago. There were the usual cards and flowers sent - beautiful, of course, and much appreciated. Mom loved fresh flowers.

My family got the most use out of the following, however:

  1. Toilet paper
  2. Paper plates, paper napkins and plastic cutlery
  3. Food
  4. Cash
  5. Help moving stuff

The cash mostly came to me from family members and was desperately needed. Mom lived 700 miles away from me so not only did we have to do a hotel for a few nights, but we had to drop 500 bucks on a big moving truck to take most of Mom’s stuff back home with us.

Toilet paper usage goes up a lot when someone dies because of visitors. The paper plates, etc. kept us from having to do dishes and the food goes without saying. Kentucky BBQ + BBQ sauce + buns = NOM NOM NOM. It was quick and easy and we could warm it up whenever we wanted and we could eat as we got hungry.

An old, OLD friend from waaaay back came down and helped us move mom’s stuff into the moving truck on a very muddy and rainy day and, at one point, drafted his father-in-law to come help with a particularly heavy object. He saved us hours of work.

So anyway I thought I’d start a thread - creative alternatives to sending flowers to the bereaved. Please, please don’t think I’m disparaging flowers or complaining about having received flowers. I’m not thinking real straight these days and my writing skills, usually fairly sharp, are kinda screwy. I just thought this would be a neat go-to guide for all of us Dopers the next time words are failing us and we just want to DO something for those who are dealing with death.

So … have at it. What helped you and yours when you were going through something like this?

That’s wonderful and so practical. I am so sorry about your mom, but to tell you the truth, none of what you listed occurs to most people when it comes to a funeral. It’s a shame.

I requested a donation be made to a school fund in lieu of flowers for my mother’s funeral. Only one person donated. Everyone else sent flowers :shrug:

It would have been nice to have had the $ to host a luncheon or something afterward.

Offering to make phone calls and answer phone calls. The grieving family doesn’t have to field all the calls themselves and can rely on someone else to pass along any news about funeral arrangements, visiting times etc.

I am sorry for your loss.

I like taking food, but I try to either take something that can easily be frozen and reheated, or I wait a month and then take it. And if it’s freezable, I take it packaged for freezing, with instructions for reheating right there on the tin. And, for the love of all that is holy, in disposable packaging. I know it’s not Earth-friendly, but the person who is grieving or recovering from surgery or sleep-deprived from the new baby will thank you. Nobody wants to wash, sort, and return all those dishes. It would’ve been easier for them to order Chinese.

ETA: I think the disposable plate/flatware idea is fantastic, by the way, and will swipe it for future use.

If people do send flowers, you’re going to have to send thank-you notes, so a roll of stamps.
And a day’s work from a maid service.

Those practical things are nice for people close to the deceased to do for the family… I think flowers are sent out of sheer habit, and by the workplace, and people not so close, but who want to make a gesture. (“So and so died - aw, too bad, we better send an arrangement”). I know when I die, I would want the handful of mourners to make a contribution to the Humane Society instead of flowers.

Help with paperwork.

When Dad died, one of my law-degreed uncles, who’s never worked as a lawyer but had often helped older relatives with legal issues, offered to handle the title transfer for the house and car, etc. Mom gratefully accepted. I really wish the offer had taken place with me around so I’d been able to point out it really made more sense to put the car in my name (the car needed replacing and Mom can’t even drive, it was me who was going to drive her around and me who had been doing so in the old car); I wish he hadn’t taken until the last minute to file everything… but still, for Mom it was a huge relief to have that out of her hands. He did the same when uncle JM died.

My cousin on Mom’s side, who recently got a law degree as well, has handled all paperwork related to Grandpa’s death - and she’s done it in a reasonable amount of time, too!

Consumables and services are definitely the way to go for this sort of thing. With flower arrangements you look at them for a day or so in the funeral home, then they get left at the grave site, so I don’t see that they do the family any real amount of good. And all that other stuff you see at funerals, the throw blankets and wind chimes and figurines…well, that strikes me as making more work for them when they already have too much on their plate. Somebody has to haul all that home, and then they have to figure out how to divvy it up and what to do with it all. When our surrogate sisters’ dad died a while back, there was so much of that stuff that just the live plants filled half their living room, and another friend has an entire bookshelf full of angel figurines from her son’s funeral.

Food should be real food, not the standard sandwich trays and cakes people send when someone dies. Especially in the interval between the death and the funeral–if you leave someone in the first shock of grief to eat when they get hungry, they’re not going to realize they’re hungry for a ham sandwich. But something warm and comforting that smells like dinner time on a normal day and is put on the table if they want it is more likely to penetrate the fog.

Make sure there’s basic groceries in the house, especially if the family has been practically living at the hospital or has been out of town. Things like milk and bread go bad faster than you realize.

Even with disposable plates and cups and flatware, there’s still dishes to be done. Do them. Help rearrange/clean out the fridge to make room for all the stuff people will bring. If there’s other cleaning that needs to be done for various company/gatherings, offer to help.

And for pity’s sake, somebody take responsibility for bringing home all the stuff that needs to be gotten from the funeral home. These people just buried someone they love, they don’t want to go back to that place unless it’s really necessary.

Help with getting the ‘remembrence’ stuff together. When we just buried my mother-in-law, that was the most heart-wrenching part we endured. It would’ve been so nice if someone else could’ve helped us go through pictures and pick bible verses / songs. It’s tough to do that alone.

My sister in law died a few weeks ago and the first people to bring stuff brought toilet paper. I’d never even thought of it, bless them.

Also, we had three kids in the house and were impressed when several people brought refrigerated bake-and-serve pizzas - better than casseroles for the kids, but not something you have to make right when it’s brought over and a little more special than frozen. Very thoughtful.

Walk the dogs.

There’s a good idea too - wait a month. Some church ladies are bringing dinner tomorrow, which is long after the food we got when she died ran out. Very kind.

I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for starting this thread. I would have NEVER thought about toilet paper.

I give money right away. From what I’ve heard, that’s most needed. I’m not much of a cook, but I’m really good at doing laundry and ironing. While we are all milling around the house, looking for something to do to help, I’ll change the sheets and clean the bathrooms.

Hopefully, I won’t need to use this advice for a very long time, but I will remember to bring toilet paper next time.

I’d never have thought of toilet paper: what a great thread this is!!

My suggestions would be pre-made meals (especially after the initial ‘critical’ time when the bereaved are still in a state of upheaval but the official mourning time is over), offering to do a basic clean of the house (vacuuming, dusting, bathrooms and mopping), mowing the lawns and/or watering plants, babysitting any little kids for a few hours so the parent/s can go off and have a good howl by themselves and of course, as mentioned, tending to any pets that need attention.

When my mother-in-law passed, we met neighbors from up the street that no one really had met. They showed up with a couple of cases of bottled water and soda pop. At first I thought it was kinda odd, but later decided it was a very thoughtful and neighborly gesture.

Or right after the funeral; my wife’s grandmother passed a few years ago, and while we were all hanging out at her parents’ house after the funeral, it got to be about 7:30 and nobody was eating or had said anything about (I was completely starving and my stomach was grumbling.)

So I took the initiative and started looking around in freezers and pantries, and ended up making some kind of funky chicken cutlets and a couple types vegetables for everyone- apparently it was just what the Dr. ordered- I still get thanked for that even now.