Etiquette for funeral sympathy and thank you cards

Updated February 21, 2017

When loved ones die, survivors are typically inundated with a barrage of sympathy cards and funeral flowers. As with most life events, there are codes and rules for what is proper and what isn't. Sending flowers, expressing written feelings of sympathy and the response to such kindnesses all fall under funeral etiquette.

Sympathy Cards

There really isn't an inappropriate time frame to send the bereaved a sympathy card, but good judgment should be used. While your aunt will still be glad to know you send your prayers at the loss her husband, she may wonder why it took you a year to get around to it. If more than a couple of months have gone by since someone has passed, send a letter or make a phone call instead.

On the receiving end of such expressions of sympathy, thank you notes for sympathy cards aren't expected. If you remember that a card was sent when meeting with the sender face to face, by all means mention the kindness. Most people understand that your thoughts are scattered, and do not expect any acknowledgement at all.


Flowers are another respectful show of sympathy, and may be sent either to the funeral home, the place of the funeral service, or even be sent to the home of the bereaved. Most people send flowers for use at the funeral service and burial. If you are late in ordering your arrangement, send it to the family instead, with a note expressing your feelings.

Funeral etiquette mandates that any flowers received must be acknowledged with a thank you card or note. However, it isn't always necessary that the note be written by an immediate family member. Often, other family members and close friends step in to help the bereaved with numerous after-funeral tasks, such as writing and sending these notes. It is perfectly acceptable for the family to order pre-printed notes. Most of these notes are phrased as follows: "The family of Robert Jones wishes to express their gratitude for your expression of sympathy in their recent loss." A family member or friend may add a short note, but if possible the widow or head of the remaining family should sign each one.

Food and Kindnesses

Many people will bring the bereaved family gifts of food, from baskets of fruit and baked goods to complete meals. Designate a family member or close friend to keep a list of those who bring food items. These people should be acknowledged with a thank you note or card. These notes should be written and sent within a few weeks of the funeral.

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About the Author

Kimberly Ripley is a freelance writer and published author from Portsmouth, N.H. She has authored five books and hundreds of articles and short stories. Her work has appeared various publications, including "Parenting," "Writer’s Digest," "Vacations" and "Discovery Travel." She studied at the University of Maine and later pursued her writing studies through numerous classes and workshops.