Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

It’s automatic: There’s a death in a client’s family, so you send flowers to the funeral home. Did you ever wonder whether that’s a good idea? Given that your aim is to be supportive and comforting to the grieving family, a lovely floral arrangement does not necessarily accomplish that goal.

The negatives:

  • We appreciate beauty less in times of grief

    Our brains are wired to satisfy our most basic needs first and then work up to higher levels of cognition. The fact that I feel better when I see a vase of fresh-cut flowers is an upper-level cognitive appreciation of beauty. If, however, I was stranded in a lifeboat in the ocean and those same flowers dropped into my lap, I would not appreciate them, because my brain switched to the most basic level of surviving.

    When we grieve, our brains go into survival mode and concentrate on the logistics of getting through the experience intact. Though your clients will briefly acknowledge the attractiveness of a bouquet, it will not have the hoped-for cognitive effect usually triggered by flowers or beauty.

  • The law of diminishing returns

    Even in the best of times, the first bouquet of flowers your clients receive will get the strongest reaction. Each successive bouquet is increasingly less satisfying. By the time they see eight or 10 bouquets, they will have little to no reaction.

  • Simply standard procedure

    Giving flowers runs the risk of leaving a negative impression if clients suspect it is an automatic response. They are aware the act requires no more than a general instruction to your administrative assistant to send flowers whenever a client is affected by death.

  • Creating a nuisance

    In practical terms, the family has little or no use for the overflowing number of flowers. Grieving families tell me they feel guilty leaving them behind, knowing people spent so much money on them. They wish they could take the arrangements home, and they feel inadequate because they can’t care properly for so many flowers. Some have told me, “It’s just one more thing that’s going to die.” Funeral homes have policies and procedures in place, often sending the flowers to nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities, but the family has no connection to that process. In other words, despite your best intentions, you will be creating a problem for the family at a time when they have enough other problems.