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  • Writer's pictureEllen Krohne

Say It With Flowers

This week my sister Annie laid her dear mother-in-law to rest. At 93, and having been in an Alzheimer’s unit for many years, they rejoiced that she could finally be at peace. Still, it was sad for the family and friends that loved her.

I remember Bernice as a robust woman, full of fun. Always ready for a party, always busy. The woman I peered at in the casket Sunday was diminutive, just tiny. I realized it wasn’t her height or heft that gave Bernice that presence, it was her love of life and the Lord that made her seem “big.”

Annie shared that Bernice felt flowers at funerals were a huge waste. “Don’t buy any for me!” she’d say. So, our family opted for a donation to St. Patrick’s Center in her name instead.

Bernice’s feelings about flowers got me thinking about how sending flowers at a funeral ever got started. It is certainly a way I express my compassion for those left behind when a loved one dies. One way to make them feel loved at such a sad time.

I discovered sending flowers is a tradition in most of the world.

The tradition of flowers being placed on graves is over 60,000 years old. This custom can be traced to the ancient Greeks. They performed rites over graves that were called "zoai.” Flowers were placed on the graves of Greek warriors.

While giving flowers for a funeral is a tradition that has been around for a long time, they serve a very different role in the past. Since the art of embalming has been slowly developed over centuries, flowers were traditionally used to cover the unpleasant odors of a decaying body. Flowers were used in varying quantities as a way of tolerating the smell of the deceased to those who came to pay their final respects.

Funeral arrangements come in the form of wreaths, standing sprays, casket sprays, baskets and more. Here is one of my favorites:

The type and color of the flowers we send are important, too. Below is a listing of the significance of different types and colors of flowers:

· Rose (red) - Passionate love, also courage love and respect, Rose (pink) – Friendship, Rose (yellow) – Zealous, Rose (white) – Purity, innocence and often used at the funerals of children.

· Poppy - Consolation - Also symbolic for veterans.

· Lily - Marriage and fidelity, they represent restored innocence of the soul.

· Sunflower – Adoration, for those with a positive outlook and zest for life.

· Peony – Healing, sometimes sent for those suffering a long-term illness.

· Chrysanthemums, also known as mums, carry several cultural meanings. In some European countries, mums are only found at funerals or on grave sites. In the U.S. chrysanthemums represent truth and are typically regarded as a cheerful way to honor someone who lived a full life.

· Purple flowers of any type are often chosen for the funeral services of grandparents, signifying dignity and elegance.

· Gladioli - Tall and majestic, gladioli convey strength of character, moral integrity and sincerity.

· Orchids – represent eternal love.

While expressing your sorrow and extending your respects through flowers is widely accepted, especially in Christian faiths, there are some instances when sending flowers is not appropriate. Jewish and Islamic faiths do not traditionally receive flowers. When attending a Buddhist ceremony, it is important to know that white flowers are a traditional color choice that represents mourning, while red is considered poor funeral etiquette. For Hindu funerals, flowers are not a traditional part of the religion, as mourners are expected to arrive empty-handed, without flowers or gifts.

So, whether you are like Bernice and think of flowers as a waste, or like me and hope to see lots of yellow sunflowers when it’s my time, I hope this post helps you to help those who are grieving.

Be blessed,


Ellen Krohne

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