Selecting gifts for the grieving can be complicated. Flowers are the automatic choice, but certain flowers may have negative connotations for some people. They may be allergic to certain flowers, or they may bring back sad memories. Alternatively, they may remind someone of a family wedding and actually trigger more grief.
I love flowers, any kind, any colour. I love their scents, and I love the way they bring joy and life to a space. Twenty years ago, when I got married to my first husband in Kenya (where we lived), our wedding flowers were simple and stunning. I was lucky enough to have a friend who was a local rose farmer, so we had 400 yellow, white and cream roses jammed into aluminum milk churns and watering cans. I remember that 400 Kenyan roses cost me $40 Canadian – Hard to believe now! We got married at the beach in a beautiful private house, and those roses will always be a part of my memories.
When I remarried two years ago, we had a low-key church wedding very near our cottage, with a party afterwards at our wonderful, ancient, and tiny golf club beside the lake. For that special day, we had white hydrangeas and white gerbera daisies. Again, very simple but beautiful.
On both occasions, flowers played a role in my feelings about the day, and I associate them with happy memories. They gave me pleasure, and I like to think our guests appreciated them too.
However, there can be such a thing as sad flowers.
For some people, certain flowers trigger memories they would rather forget. Some scents take them back to times and places which cause them to feel sadness, regret, or even pain. Perhaps they associate red roses with a relationship that fell apart, or maybe white carnations remind them of the funeral for a loved one. I remember there were several large flower arrangements at my dad’s funeral, but I could not tell you the colours or varieties. For sure, the church would have been gloomy and depressing without them, but did they bring joy and life to the space? No, that would be a stretch,
I remember my mother receiving all the church flowers from the funeral, and she immediately gave most of them away. Although she was grateful for them, she delivered them to elderly members of the congregation or local retirement homes, partly because it seemed like the right thing to do, but also because they were not helping to ease her pain.
Wedding/graduation/promotion/anniversary flowers have a different effect on us than funeral flowers, not because they are a different species but because of the associations they hold. Even if my mom had held on to all of the flowers from the church, they would have died within a week. I think even that would have been sad, when she inevitably had to throw them out.
When someone in our workplace/community experiences the loss of a family member, the response is often to send a sympathy card or a bouquet of flowers, even before the funeral or celebration of life takes place. These are both thoughtful gestures, but once again the family ends up with a houseful of flowers, and perhaps what they need is a more practical gift to show that we care.
As a practical person, and someone who has survived the loss of a husband at a young age, it was the thoughtful, but practical, gifts and gestures which I appreciated the most. My husband did not want a funeral, so we avoided the armfuls of bouquets, but we had two young kids, and I was overwhelmed by the thoughtful gifts for them.
Now, through my work with grieving families, I recognize that there are some alternatives to sending flowers. People in crisis do not tend to take care of themselves well, and one of these options is to send them a “comfort crate”. This is a crate of beautiful, locally-made products designed to encourage self-care in a time of crisis. Even the lovely wooden crate can be upcycled once the products have been used, and each crate can be customized to the needs of the bereaved family. If the family includes young children, the crate will include a picture book written specifically with them in mind. Either way, the crate will include a gift card for some grief support provided by myself.
If you like the idea of sending a practical (and perhaps more meaningful) condolence gift to a bereaved family in your community. Please check out this link to order.
Until next time.