New York State Funeral Directors Association

I got this e-mail from one of the numerous genealogy sites I signed up with, and it had a very insightful lead-in: “Every obituary tells a story.”

This is so true. After reading through a couple hundred obituaries, one thing stuck out to me: what comes after “In lieu of flowers.”

Now commonplace, it’s one of the last parts of an obituary – but I believe it’s extremely important, and perhaps it’s taken for granted.

This part of an obituary is a true opportunity for a person to make a mark after they’ve gone.

But they have to write up their obituary before they go.

Sometimes the phrase is confusing. Rarely, if ever, does the obituary give a reason.

“In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to your favorite charity.”

Statements like this make me wonder, was the deceased an ardent opponent of flowers? Is the family against flowers?

Are they concerned about the bees, and therefore want these colorful, delicate life forms preserved to make sure there’s enough bee food to make honey?

I’ve begun to wonder if it’s simply part of an unwritten template that’s automatically placed into the obituary – leaving family members with the task of coming up with something to put there.

Articles I’ve seen take a variety of paths to discuss this phrase.

Some contend that spending money on flowers is wasteful – the money could be spent on more important things, like charitable causes.

Others say flowers at funerals add “beauty at a time of great suffering and loss.”

Some flower companies contend it’s just well-intentioned but misleading verbiage - because some people feel bad if there are too few flowers at a funeral.

For those who aren’t against flowers, the Phillip’s Florals website has a list of phrases that can be used instead, like: “As an expression of sympathy, donations may be mailed to …”

I read through 200-plus obituaries recently and found that there are some primary directions taken when obituaries include this phrase.

Unfortunately, few of them appeared to be coming from the deceased as part of their own planning.

Most were clearly added by family members taking part in the obituary’s development.

But some of them give a glimpse into what the deceased prioritized during their lifetime.

Some ask that instead of flowers, people make a contribution to the Fire Department or ambulance company they worked at.

A few asked that memorial contributions be sent to organizations that support veterans, like the Wounded Warrior Project or American Legion.

Battles with disease and illness are the focus of many others seeking donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital or centers battling cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Epilepsy, to name a few.

Some aimed to support entities and organizations that played a role in the deceased’s final days, like a local hospital, or a Hospice facility. Several in the list sought donations for the faith community they belonged to.

On many occasions, obituaries suggesting memorial contributions to benefit the local animal shelter or humane society.

A few urge donations the local food pantry, a local historical society, library or Rotary club.

I’m sure these contributions make an impact – I’m not sure how much. I started looking for an estimate of the amount of memorial contributions received by organizations – and gave up.

Sometimes, family members took time to make sure the obituary – and the request for memorial contributions – reflected the mindset of their loved ones.

Such was the case in one obituary that stated: “He had a heartfelt love of nature so in lieu of flowers please consider a donation in his memory to an organization of your choice that is dedicated to preserving the environment or to Hospice … for their compassionate care.”

That gives you an idea what kind of person was lost, and it likely prompted support for those that help save the environment.

People want to “do right” by the dead. So I am convinced these memorial contributions add up to millions of dollars each year, nationwide.

That’s why I believe people should really consider writing up their own obituary and giving it to family members.

And be sure to think long and hard about the memorial contributions part – it will make a difference after you’ve gone.

Sometimes, you don’t have to ask people for money – you can ask for something more which doesn’t really cost a thing, like the request a family placed in the obituary of their daughter:

“In lieu of flowers, please pay it forward and spend your day giving back to the community and bringing a smile to someone’s face.”


EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association