If you do make a donation, make sure you write on the check, or include a note stating "I am making a donation in memory of 'xxxxxx' and the contact info of the next of kin so you can be properly thanked.
For example, "Please accept this donation in memory of Jane Doe. An acknowledgement can be can sent to Jane Doe's family, at 111 Main Street, USA".
Update November 2013: It only took seven years but I finally turned a corner. :)
But dealing with them after the funeral was a pain! They can't be left at the cemetery (at least not right away). They are usually these beautiful arrangements, and you feel guilty about just throwing them out. Some were actually live plants. We had to fill two vehicles with them, take them back to my parents' house, and then all of us stood around trying to make sure we got all the cards so we could do thank you cards, and then we were desperately trying to figure out what to do with them. We gave some to people in the church we though would enjoy them, took flowers out of some and put in vases, and still had to throw away quite a bit.
As upset as we all were, dealing with that just seemed overwhelming at the time.
"Oh, why do my actions have consequences?" ~ Homer Simpson
"She knew my one weakness: That I'm weak." ~ Homer Simpson
I second the above posts and further suggest if you really want to help someone who is grieving, offer to help transport the flowers and plants that inevitably arrive anyway. Come to the funeral with a tarp for the inside of your car. Also be prepared to take some flowers home with you (or better yet, to a nursing home to bless others) if it is too much for the people to bear to look at post-funeral.
After my FIL passed several years ago, we had lots of flowers. Because he was under hospice care we asked them if they would like them for their in-house patients. They were thrilled to get them. They break up large arrangements to spread the love. A few years later we did the same for my mother. With DS they went to the VA hospital.
The real pain comes in transporting them, and as hathnofury said, offering to assist the family with that task is gratefully appreciated!
Differences in the states, regions; I suppose.
Around here, the funeral home takes care to transport the flowers to whatever place might want them. It's part of their fee. NOT left for the family to do.
I know on my part, I do send flowers when I know someone died if I don't know them well and if not advised otherwise. I don't seek out the obit, and perhaps that's wrong?
Ah well, I'm probably too old to change. Sending flowers is a sign of respect to me.
When my dad died last year most people did flowers and donations as well. After the funeral the funeral home asked where we would like the flowers. We kept a few and donated the rest to local nursing homes. The funeral home to care of the transportation.
Trust is like paper. Once it's crumpled it can never be perfect again.
The thing about death is that its effects are far-reaching. If a friend or family member or colleague derives some sort of peace from sending flowers, it's really okay. Any church or funeral home is delighted to deliver unwanted flowers to nursing homes and hospitals nearby.
We all grieve differently, and customs vastly differ. And flowers, while unimportant to you, may be an important thing to someone else.
We did "in lieu of" for both my brother and mother. The flowers we received were beautiful. The donations to the ACS were, too. Most flower senders also made a donation; they just wanted a beautiful display to celebrate a loved one's life. The funeral home took the flowers immediately--while fresh and beautiful--to the hospices where my family members had received loving care.