In the wild, chaotic grief that erupted when my father died, the first task I grappled with was calling his friends and our family members to tell them Dad was gone. My cousin Carrie asked where she could send flowers, and I was so bulldozed by heartbreak I didn’t realize the right answer to that question was “thank you so much, but no flowers.” Instead, I said the only thing my muddled brain could come up with: I told her she could send them to Dad’s place. A couple of days later, when I sat to write Dad’s obituary, having consulted with my siblings on the topic, I wrote “flowers gratefully declined.” But it was too late. Carrie sent an extravagant, gorgeous bouquet of flowers, with a card conveying how much she had loved her Uncle Joe and how much she would miss him.
By then my brother had taken all the tables out of Dad’s apartment, and the only place I could put the vase of flowers was on a stack of cardboard boxes on the floor, surrounded by other boxes and piles of Dad’s stuff that we were sorting through. I spent a week alone in that apartment between Dad’s death and his memorial gathering, and even though he had lived beside the ocean and I could have walked the seawall every day, I barely left the building. I took up smoking, even though it had been years since I quit and even though Dad died of lung cancer. I sat puffing on the little concrete balcony, writing the eulogy, staring at the ocean, and listening to Glen Campbell sing “Honey, Come Back” over and over and over until Dad’s neighbours must have wanted to shoot me from the adjacent balconies.
I felt terribly alone in my grief, even though my sisters and my brother were there and were sharing all the tasks a dead person leaves in their wake. The days were filled with doings and the phone rang often, but at the end of every day, my siblings went home to their partners. Mine was a thousand miles away. It was just me and the cigarettes and Glen.
Every twenty minutes or so, I’d go outside on the balcony and smoke. And every time I came back into the apartment, Carrie’s flowers would catch my eye and tell my broken heart “I care. I’m with you in this crazy grief.”
It sounds sappy, I know. I could be an ad for a florist shop. (If I were, I would advertise this one.)
Shawna Lemay wrote a wonderful post this morning on Transactions with Beauty. Sparked by reading the obituary of a friend’s father, who, when he died, requested “in lieu of flowers, please take a loved one out for lunch,” Shawna offered a beautiful list of alternatives to funeral flowers. Here is what she wrote:
Although I love flowers very much, I won’t see them when I’m gone. So in lieu of flowers:
Buy a book of poetry written by someone still alive, sit outside with a cup of tea, a glass of wine, and read it out loud, or silently, by yourself, or to someone.
Spend some time with a single flower. A rose maybe. Smell it, touch the petals. Really look at it.
Drink a really nice bottle of wine with someone you love.
Or, Champagne. And think of what John Maynard Keynes said, “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne.” Or what Dom Perignon said when he first tasted the stuff: “Come quickly! I am tasting stars!”
Take out a paint set and lay down some colours.
Watch birds. Common sparrows are fine. Pigeons, too. Geese are nice. Robins.
In lieu of flowers, walk in the trees and watch the light fall into it. Eat an apple, a really nice big one. I hope it’s crisp.
Have a long soak in the bathtub with candles, maybe some rose petals.
Sit on the front stoop and watch the clouds. Have a dish of strawberry ice cream in my name. Or chocolate.
If it’s winter, have a cup of hot chocolate outside for me. If it’s summer, a big glass of ice water.
If it’s autumn, collect some leaves and press them in a book you love. I’d like that.
Sit and look out a window and write down what you see. Write some other things down.
In lieu of flowers,
I would wish for you to flower.
I would wish for you to blossom, to open, to be beautiful.
I would wish for you to align your soul, for a time, with flowers.
~ Shawna Lemay
My Italian ex-husband once told me that his relatives in Italy sometimes impoverish themselves because they feel obligated to spend hundreds of dollars every month on flowers for the dead. It’s a waste. I get this. And I’m totally on board with what Shawna so beautifully suggests.
But sometimes, in lieu of anything else, send flowers.
The flowers in this post were arranged by my talented cousin, Michelle LaPointe, who owns and operates Michelle’s Flowers in Saskatoon.