In Lieu of Flowers: Bad Advice With An Ulterior Motive

The phrase "in lieu of flowers" is a little more calculating, and the reality of a funeral without flowers a little more bleak, than you might think.

At one point it was common to see the phrase "In lieu of flowers", followed by a request for donations to a specific charity, in obituary notices. How is that flowers, a traditional and beloved part of the funeral process, were being slighted in this way?

It starts with well-compensated (hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in annual salary) fundraising professionals looking for new sources of revenue reaching out to funeral directors. Funeral directors help bereaved families with all aspects of the funeral, including the wording of obituary notices, and the fundraisers coached them to encourage the use of the phrase "in lieu of flowers".

Why would funeral directors agree to that when everybody knows that flowers are a traditional and vital part of a funeral service? That's where it gets interesting.

A lot of funeral directors really don't like flowers that much. They have to move them around, and sympathy flowers are generally big, heavy but also fragile. They splash water when moved, and need to be watered a couple of times a day. They can drop leaves and petals on the floor. They are, unfortunately, a nuisance for the funeral home to deal with.

That made funeral directors receptive.... by just adding the term "In lieu of flowers" to obituary notices they could do away with the aggravation of flowers.

The problem is that a funeral service without flowers doesn't really work. As one funeral director said in a recent survey:

"A funeral without flowers is a big step towards no funeral at all."

That same survey shows something really interesting. Nuisance or not the vast majority of funeral directors now believe that flowers are a very important part of the funeral process – providing comfort, warmth and beauty to the bereaved. In fact the survey also showed that flowers and plants provide the most non-human comfort.

Flowers are so important to the funeral ceremony that almost all funeral directors now encourage them. Flowers might involve a little more work, but they are clearly worth it.