We frequently receive questions about flowers and funerals – how did flowers ever become associated with funerals, what flowers are appropriate, how much should someone spend on flowers, etc.
It appears that flowers have been associated with burial from time immemorial. In ancient eras, flowers provided a very practical benefit: they were used to mask any unpleasant scents. The quantity of the flowers frequently related to the condition of the deceased, as well as the length of time from the passing to the burial service. Dating back to approximately 65,000 years ago, the Shanidar Caves in Iraq demonstrate the probability that flowers were used as part of the burial ritual for this very reason.
In Roman times, the custom of planting flowers around the tomb was twofold in purpose. It guaranteed proper repose for the deceased, and it also was seen as purifying the nearby ground.
The most infamous incident where flowers were used to disguise decomposition took place in the United States in 1874. President Andrew Jackson’s body was not embalmed, and when his funeral took place the funeral director (Lazarus Shepard) closed the casket and heaped mounds and mounds of flowers upon it – thus allowing the 78 year old former President to be mourned properly.
As embalming methodology improved, flowers have taken on a variety of symbolic meanings. They are visual expressions of respect, love, sympathy, and support for the surviving family. Undoubtedly, flowers create a background of beauty which conforms to the dignified nature of a memorial service – – additionally, they are tokens of respect for the lost loved one.
There is a spiritual dimension to the use of flowers in services as well. Symbolically, the beauty of a flower that does not last forever ties into the end of our own life cycle.
The appropriateness of the flowers at a funeral vary according to beliefs and practices, but generally speaking, several types of flowers are more closely associated with funerals than others. Usually in the funeral industry the following is true:
- Lilies symbolizes purity and eternal life, always a good choice for a funeral;
- Carnations are an equally fine choice, as they are seen to stand for untainted love, innocence, and admiration for the loved one;
- Roses, if they are dark, are an expression of grief – lighter roses evoke feelings of youthfulness and gentility. A single rose in a bouquet can present a striking image;
- Orchids are an elegant, graceful flower that blends sentiment, understatement, and sympathy.
Let me make special mention of the peace lily. This is a stately flower that can be taken home after the funeral, and can last for years in remembrance of the deceased. Because they die during the winter and return during the spring, this plant has religious significance.
So what is an appropriate amount of money to spend of flowers for a funeral? This question is a veritable riddle: personal issues should be considered. How much can you afford to spend? How close were you to the deceased? As a rule of thumb, florists tell me that $50 to $80 is a very appropriate price range (as an aside, florists also tell me that approximately 25% of their net revenue comes from flowers going to funeral services).
What Happens To The Flowers?
After the funeral is over, the question always arises as to what to do with the flowers. Donating flowers to appropriate organizations – nursing homes, hospices, hospitals, and the like — really can cheer up grim surroundings.
When families decide to take the flowers home, there are a number of options aside from just allowing them to wither away. A shadow box using pressed flowers is a good idea; homemade potpourri; memorial wreaths are all ways to make good use of leftover flowers. You can even have jewelry made with them!
The bottom line is, if you look at the history of flowers and funerals, the primary purpose that is served is one of healing. Grief is a serious issue and flowers have a way of softening that issue.