What Should I do with Funeral Flowers?

Meaningful ways to repurpose funeral flowers, plants and floral arrangements

Photo © Darren Mower/E+/Getty Images

Evidence indicates that the earliest confirmed use of flowers at the funerals/burials of human beings occurred in Raqefet Cave, located in Mt. Carmel, Israel, some 14,000 years ago. While the survivors there used flowers to line the graves of the deceased, the use of floral bouquets and arrangements at funeral and interment services has become ubiquitous today -- to the point that some families now include the phrases "Please omit flowers" or "In lieu of flowers..." in published obituaries in order to limit the number of floral sympathy offerings received.

While survivors generally appreciate both the beauty of these flowers and the thought behind them, many people simply do not know what to do with these arrangements after the funeral and/or burial services. This article offers several meaningful ways you can "repurpose" the flowers, plants and floral arrangements used at funeral and interment services instead of simply throwing them away.

Brighten Someone's Day
At the conclusion of a funeral or interment service, members of the immediate family typically select various floral arrangements for display in their homes but still end up with more flowers, plants and/or floral arrangements than they can realistically use. Rather than leave these items behind at the site of the funeral and/or interment, to be discarded later by funeral service or cemetery personnel, consider giving unwanted funeral flowers to friends, relatives or coworkers and/or donating them to a church, retirement home, workplace, hospice or other caregiving facility.

(Please note that because of allergy concerns, some healthcare facilities might not accept your donation.)

In the latter case, when donating funeral flowers, plants and floral arrangements, you should first remove all cards, notes, ribbons and decorations that identify the original purpose of your gift to casual observers.

(When removing cards and notes, however, you should keep track of "who sent what" so you can send them a thank-you note later.)

Likewise, you should consider the eventual setting before donating funeral flowers, plants and floral arrangements. While a floral wreath or green plant will generally prove appropriate in most settings, for example, a standing Christian cross or a floral "cause-awareness ribbon" (such as pink for breast cancer) might seem out of place or inappropriate in a nursing home, hospice or caregiving facility.

Finally, given that members of the immediate family will generally feel overwhelmed with the myriad details necessary in planning funeral and/or interment services by this time -- in addition to the physical, emotional and mental toll created by grief itself -- figuring out what to do with funeral flowers, plants and floral arrangements after the service(s) is often overlooked. Therefore, ask a family member or friend, or a funeral director or cemetery staff member, to take charge of the funeral flowers.

Family members or friends can return to the service site after the committal and load the remaining unwanted flowers in their vehicles. In addition, funeral service personnel are generally willing to take responsibility for this task, or even to deliver unwanted flowers, plants and/or floral arrangements locally, as long as it's arranged beforehand. (But be aware that you might be charged for this service.)

Remember Another Loved One
Another wonderful use for unwanted funeral flowers, plants and floral arrangements is to leave them on the gravesite, columbarium niche or other final resting place of another loved one. Often, because families tend to use the same local cemetery, other family members, relatives and/or loved ones will already be interred on the grounds. Therefore, consider visiting their resting place and honoring their memory with a bright floral arrangement that would otherwise remain unused and, eventually, simply be discarded.

In addition, you could also talk to your funeral director and/or cemetery staff member and ask if you can donate unwanted funeral flowers to someone else's funeral/interment service. While this action might seem novel, it's actually not uncommon and can help make those mourning the death of someone you've never heard of feel a little bit better in his or her time of grief -- especially for funeral and/or interment services that won't receive many flowers, plants and floral arrangements. Again, ask your funeral director or cemetery staff member; he or she should be able to offer a suggestion.

Create a Memorial Keepsake
If you've ever saved a flower from a significant occasion in your life, or if you enjoy making crafts, then this final suggestion will seem like second nature to you. Using the petals, heads or whole bouquets from leftover funeral flowers, create a memorial keepsake in honor of your loved one. The easiest method is simply placing petals or a floral head between two sheets of paper and then pressing it flat between a stack of books. Once dry, you can place the petals or flower head beneath glass in a frame -- possibly adding a favorite quote or the deceased's name to the matting -- and give the framed flowers to family members and friends.

In addition, you can use dried flowers to create memorial bookmarks; holiday ornaments; refrigerator magnets; memorial candles; soap; potpourri; or use the dried flowers to decorate memorial scrapbooks or journals. Any of these items -- or something you imagine and craft yourself -- would likewise make a wonderful gift to family members, friends and loved ones who knew and loved the deceased and will prove a better use of leftover funeral flowers, plants and floral arrangements than simply discarding them.

Additional Resources:
How to Memorialize a Death: Memorial Benches
10 Ways to Memorialize Your Deceased Pet
How to Honor Your Deceased Dad on Father's Day
10 Ways to Honor Your Deceased Mom on Mother's Day

"Earliest floral grave lining from 13,700-11,700-y-old Natufian burials at Raqefet Cave, Mt. Carmel, Israel," by Dani Nadel, Avinoam Danin, Robert C. Power, et al., July 16, 2013. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Author's collection.

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