More Deaths Are Occurring
Since the COVID-19 crisis began, there have been 200,000 more deaths (called “excess deaths”) in the U.S. than we would normally expect based on past averages. That means the usual numbers of people are dying, plus hundreds of thousands more. Therefore, advisors are more likely to encounter the death of clients or their family members.
When those deaths occur, many firms have a standard automatic response. According to procedures and predetermined cost limits, the administrative staff orders flowers with a message of condolence and sends them to the funeral home (or to the family if in-person gatherings are not allowed due to the pandemic). I encourage you to reconsider this practice.
Why Sending Flowers and Plants Can Be Problematic
First, it is not a very personal gesture. It’s an automatic response requiring no additional care or thought by anyone, and it blends in with the plethora of other foliage that families receive.
More important, this practice creates a problem for the grieving family. They get ready to leave the funeral home, look around, and have no idea what to do with all the flowers and plants. They often feel guilty because they want to honor the generosity of people who spend so much on these offerings. But how? It can be overwhelming to figure out what to do with them, especially if many family members come from out of town and can’t carry bouquets and plants back on the plane.
Granted, funeral homes have relationships with rehab centers, hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities where they can repackage and use the flowers. However, neither the family nor the senders have anything to do with that process, and many times don’t even know where the flowers eventually go.
Even if the family takes all the offerings home, the cut flowers will die within a week or two. The plants will require placement somewhere in the house, along with the watering, tending and pruning necessary for their survival. This all coincides with a time when energy and attentiveness are limited by grief and must be focused on the myriad tasks of financial and legal processing incumbent on surviving family members.
Instead of contributing to this problematic scenario, there are more personal and comforting things you can do with the money you would have spent on flowers and plants. Here are just a few suggestions that advisors and surviving family members have shared with us over the years:
- Donate in the name of the deceased. Many families now request this in the obituary anyway, and they give the name of a favored charity. Even if they don’t, you can choose a charity you know the family or the deceased supported, or choose one that has some relation to the cause of death (e.g., Alzheimer’s Association, MADD, the research organizations for various cancers, etc.). When you do this, you create a living legacy to the one who died.
- Send wind chimes that the family can hang on their porch or balcony, so they can be reminded of their loved one whenever the chimes ring.
- A week after the funeral, send a gift certificate for a massage with a note that you hope they can enjoy a little peace and pampering to ease the craziness. (To be done in a time and place where COVID-19 doesn’t prevent massages).
- Gather memories of the person who died from anyone in your firm who had interactions with them. Have them printed up into a little booklet, perhaps including pictures of the person, and send it to the family.
- On the six-month anniversary of the death, send a food basket or a package of the griever’s favorite comfort food. Everyone brings food when the death occurs, but it’s a treat to get it later, especially on a day that most other people mostly ignore.
- On the deceased person’s birthday, send a small bottle of their favorite wine or craft beer with a note that says you are raising a glass together in their memory, and that you will never forget them.
Now that you are thinking of alternatives, use your imagination to come up with more. Leave the flowers behind. Spend the money instead on gifts that make a difference.
Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professionals in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life.