Funeral Etiquette: How to Mention a Memorial or Sympathy Gift

It's not bad manners, but here's how and when you should

Widow and daughter at hearse
Is it okay to mention your memorial donation or sympathy gift to the family at the funeral?. Photo © Rich Legg/E+/Getty Images

Many obituaries and death notices today include the words "In lieu of flowers..." and ask surviving family members and friends to make a financial donation or sympathy gift in memory of the deceased, often to a specific charity, cause or organization. Unfortunately, contributions made directly to these companies might leave you wondering if the immediate family will receive notification of your gift, whether you should tell them and how to tell them.

This article explains how and when you can politely, tactfully mention your financial donation or sympathy gift to the immediate family following the death of a loved one.

Should I Mention My Sympathy Gift?

As explained in "The Do's and Don'ts Surrounding Funeral and Memorial Donations," making a financial contribution by personal bank check probably remains the best payment method for sympathy gifts. Mailing a personal check to a charity takes longer than making a contribution online, however, and might leave you wondering if mentioning your thoughtful gesture to the immediate family beforehand might be viewed as bad manners or inappropriate.

The short answer is no. It is perfectly acceptable to inform the immediate family of your funeral memorial contribution or sympathy gift personally once you have made it. In fact, this is advisable because personally mentioning your thoughtful gift can provide comfort to the family during this difficult time -- often well before the receiving charity, cause or organization can inform the family.

How to Mention Your Donation or Gift

It is important to understand that the time before, during and after the funeral or memorial service often proves hectic, exhausting and even overwhelming for the immediate family. Foremost, family members must cope with the grief triggered by the death of their loved one, which takes a genuine emotional, mental and physical toll.

For some, the days, weeks and even months surrounding a loss to death feel like a blur -- as if their normal lives simply disappeared and were replaced by ever-present pain, sorrow and tears.

Therefore, the best way to mention your funeral memorial donation or sympathy gift to the immediate family is to put it in writing. You can easily do this by sending the family a sympathy card or a condolence note/letter in the mail, placing it in a collection box or basket at the service itself, or by handing it to a member of the immediate family as you offer your condolences.

While you might feel tempted to mention your heartfelt financial gesture to a loved one face-to-face during the wake/visitation, funeral or memorial service, the interment, or by phoning the family at some point, the truth is that many people might (understandably) forget that you mentioned your sympathy gift when the time comes to send thank-you notes a few weeks later. Sending a sympathy card or a condolence note/letter provides the immediate family with a physical record to which they can refer when they feel ready, eliminating the need for them to remember this detail during this difficult time.

When writing your sympathy card or condolence note/letter, you should not mention the dollar amount of your financial contribution or gift. Instead, simply note that you "Honored/Remembered the [Insert name of deceased] by sending a gift to [Insert name of the family's designated charity, cause or organization]."

When to Mention Your Donation or Gift

If you follow the advice above, you should send a written acknowledgement of your funeral memorial donation or sympathy gift shortly after you make it. Ideally, you should make your donation as soon as possible after learning that the family requested financial memorials/gifts (which is typically communicated in the deceased's obituary or death notice), and generally no later than seven days after the funeral or memorial service. Obviously, the family will appreciate any gift at any time in honor of their loved one, so this is merely a rule-of-thumb.

By personally sending or delivering a personal written card or note, you can eliminate concerns that the receiving charity, cause or organization might fail to notify the family of your thoughtful gift in a timely manner, or that the immediate family might forget about your donation if your tell them verbally.

Related Funeral Etiquette Articles:
Is it Okay to Use the Deceased's Name With the Grieving?
Five Funeral Visitation Blunders to Avoid
Seven Insensitive Comments You Shouldn't Say at Funerals

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