In lieu of flowers, take someone you love to lunch

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 Michelle LaPointe, who owns and operates Michelle’s Flowers in Saskatoon.

16 Responses to “In lieu of flowers, take someone you love to lunch”

  1. carin

    A gorgeous post, Leslie. Today is the 17th anniversary of my dad’s death. I went to the garden centre and bought plants. The year he died we planted a viburnum that reminds me of him every time I see it. And I still get misty-eyed when I think of the bouquet a friend sent shortly after his death, with a card that said she still remembered the flowers I sent when her sister died a few years before…

  2. Christine

    Beautifully written as always! I want my children to read this as I would really love for them to adopt the practice of spending actual time with someone when a loved one passes. Flowers are lovely but time is precious.

    • commatologist

      Thank you, Christine. Say hello to your wonderful daughters for me.

    • commatologist

      Thanks for sharing it, Sheila. Are you a hospice volunteer?

  3. Diana Z

    What a great essay, Leslie. When Daniele’s dad died, a childhood friend of hers had a beautiful plant delivered to the funeral home. We now have that plant in our home, and it is growing bigger and greener every week. Whenever I see it, it quietly reminds me of him and the wonderful support we received those days after his death. Daniele also has her dad’s old guitar, but there’s something about a live plant that is special to me…I guess because it’s a living embodiment of a kind gesture. And despite us forgetting to water it often enough, it’s still alive!

    • commatologist

      Thanks, Diana. A living plant is a wonderful way to acknowledge the cycle of life. Chris has her grandfather’s fiddle. She and Daniele should get together and play a duet sometime! Great to hear from you. I am patiently waiting for your blog.

      • Diana Z

        Love you, Leslie! I didn’t know Chris played the fiddle!!

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  5. Ellen

    I really like Shawna’s ideas but can totally understand how Carrie’s flowers would comfort you. Some of the flowers I received when my parents died meant a lot to me. No doubt you still miss your father, but I hope time has eased your grief. Take care and thanks for reading WordSisters.

    • commatologist

      It’s my pleasure to read you and your word sisters, Ellen! Thanks for visiting my blog. Leslie


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