Six Sympathy Designs for Three Cremation and Life Celebration Trends

If your business includes sympathy flowers, then you know: Cremations have surpassed burials. More families are choosing life celebrations and other non-traditional ceremonies. And memorial services are now often scheduled in weeks or months rather than days. These three trends change or reduce sympathy floral arrangement sales. How can you keep flowers a vital part of these evolving end-of-life traditions? First, understand the trends (a summary follows). Second, keep your faith in flowers. Third? Offer updated and innovative designs. We discuss six floral design ideas here, four for urns and two personalized "new" tradition designs.

Cremations continue to rise

A sealed brick garland was used to create this design that highlights the urn. The waterproof bottom of the five individual mesh-covered foam blocks allows the design to rest upon tabletops but has the flexibility to be arranged as needed to fit different spaces. The floral foam acts as a water source for the hydrangea, roses and pittosporum, keeping them fresh for days.

In 2016 cremations passed the number of casketed burials at 50.1 percent and is now the most popular form of disposition. The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) predicts 54 percent cremations by 2020. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) suggests 80 percent by 2035. In order for sympathy flowers to remain relevant, florists must explore new ways to adapt their products and services to fit evolving traditions and ceremonies that center around cremation. How has the rise in cremations affected funeral traditions such as sending fresh flowers to comfort the living? The societal change of attitude from grieving the death to celebrating the life may have encouraged the rising popularity of cremations. And cremation is often considered a simpler and more economical way to honor those we love: cremation can cost 40 to 50 percent less than burial. The bottom line: cremation is now the leading tradition of US death-care services.

Educate and personalize

Floral Foam Risers in square and round forms offer a balanced platform for the elevation of a funeral urn. As traditions change, simple table designs are often requested for more casual memorial gatherings.

An important step for florists may lie in educating the customer of the emotional value of comforting the living with flowers. Personalizing designs is one way to connect. Customized designs that express elements of one’s personality, hobbies, occupation or favorite colors create an emotional connection with viewers who feel the empathy expressed by the sender.

Adrianna Duran-Leon AIFD created this lovely design in honor of her beloved dad. His American flag and beloved photograph were cushioned in a layer of fresh rose petals.


She used a raquette as the water source for the red roses that formed a visual backdrop for this design.


Adrianna covered a design ring in red carnations and used it to encircle the urn.

Meeting the challenge of change

“Most funeral directors have seen a lot of families move away from tradition and ceremony,” says R. Bryant Hightower Jr., secretary of the NFDA. “There are ways to remember and celebrate our loved ones without being tied to the traditions people may be trying to escape.” The challenge for funeral directors and florists alike is to keep the grief-comforting traditions—memorials, visitations and sending sympathy flowers—alive for these new end-of-life traditions. “As we look around the globe, we can consider England for example,” says Bryant. “Their cremations seem to have peaked at about 90 percent. They have maintained the comforting practice of celebrating life memorials even though cremations are prevalent.”

Sherrilyn Roundy AIFD created this tabletop design by cutting a mache wreath in half. The four exposed sections of the wreath’s floral foam were dipped in hot glue to seal and waterproof the ends. The two wreath halves were placed in opposite directions with the center ends touching to create the natural effect of a meandering flower garden highlighting the framed photo.

Exploring new options

If cost is leading more families to choose cremation, the same may be true of purchasing flowers. Along with sympathy designs for traditional funerals, you may want to consider also offering less expensive flower options for more informal services. We often see masses of small bouquets laid in public places where people gather to express emotion over a loss of life or disastrous event. Perhaps offering smaller bundles of flowers or hand-tied bouquets that can be laid at the base of the memorial table by attendees might be one cost-effective option to market to customers. Flowers or plants delivered to the home can be a practical option for any budget.

Personalized designs serve a purpose. The design becomes a safe conversation piece and the sender feels the emotional accomplishment of having ‘done something’ for the family. The star-shaped base of this design was cut from a sculpting sheet and covered in red carnations.

Life celebration centers

Some families are planning life celebrations rather than funerals. Many funeral businesses are changing to life celebration centers to accommodate that business and embracing other family celebrations including weddings, baby showers, anniversaries, memorial services and more. These life events offer new floral opportunities for the florists who actively seek that business. Develop a menu of flower options for guest and buffet tables at each event facility in your area. Visit the life centers and video a walk-through of each site. On camera, point out the spaces where flowers can be used to compliment life events. Share the video with your customers during consultations in your shop to guide them in planning their flowers. Place the video online so it can be viewed by people seeking a facility or florist. Encourage the venue to post your online video on their website and social media pages to reach potential clients for both of you.

Still a need for meaningful traditions

For family members who live in another area of the county, cremation allows the memorial to be scheduled at a time convenient for everyone to gather together, even months later. This is challenging for florists because it by-passes the emotional impulse to send flowers of comfort to a grieving family at the time of death. Cremation offers the flexibility for one-of-a-kind memorials or the opportunity to scatter ashes in a beloved space or at sea. Florists can offer packages of petals to scatter or floral designs that float. More outdoor memorials are taking place in non-traditional spaces. Suggest flower arrangements that mark the facility entrance or adorn the speaker’s stand. Surround framed photograph collections or personal treasures on a memory table with flowers. Cremains are often kept in the home. You can offer a collection of upscale decorative urns and stands for your customers to choose from. No memorial planned? Suggest sending flowers to the family home, office or an entity such as a charity, hospice or a medical facility that was important to the deceased.

Looking ahead

There are many ways to attach the fresh flowers in this design. An easy option is to tightly wire or cable tie an IGLU to the shepherd’s hook that supports the memorial wind chime that becomes a keepsake for the family.

Flowers have been used for generations to represent the emotion of the sender at family, cultural or religious ceremonies. They fulfill a sender’s emotional need to do something in their time of grief. What suggestions do you have for keeping sympathy flowers and services relevant as end-of-life traditions transition?

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