Friday, February 12, 2010

stinking flowers

Also posted on Widow's Voice

When people die, no one really knows what to do. Call? Visit? Send cards, casseroles or flowers?
I can personally say, that most of the above were very much appreciated. In the fog of grief, many of these overtures were not remembered, unfortunately. So, please, don't be offended if the thank-you card never arrives.
The sympathy cards were kind reminders that other people loved Jeff and missed him too. That we were not alone in our grief and that our family and friends were thinking of us.
The food was a lifesaver. My children were fed. There were all sorts of snacks for visitors to graze on. I never once felt the need to go to the store (even if I hadn't been on sedatives to prevent me from having the energy to scream obscenities into the void).
I found it hard after Jeff died to be at the centre of such hubbub and pain. I had difficulty feeling that I was needed to alleviate other's pain and suffering.
Talking on the phone was unbearable. Speaking face to face was often worse.
I didn't want to talk. I didn't want to communicate. I couldn't get out what I needed/wanted to say. And most often, I didn't want to say anything.
But the flowers were lovely....initially. They were thoughtful and generous. The sentiment was kind.
Then I had to water them. It was more than I could remember and wrap my head around. One more thing I had to accomplish with the energy that I didn't have. I'd sit in the chair by the window staring at the flowers that had adorned the church during his funeral. The happy pinks and purples with the vibrant greens. They seemed futile, smug and ridiculous. They screamed at me, "Life goes forward. We are happy, happy, happy flowers." I wanted to yell at them, "Fuck you, you preppy little losers. I hate you." Instead, I threw wadded up wet tissues at them with the vigor of one who despises something so intensely that thought may just blow it to pieces.
Then they began to wilt. And they reminded me that 'everything dies'. They rubbed my nose in the lesson that I had just learned so painfully. Everything is fleeting. Nothing lasts.
I watched as their once oh-so-smug petals fell to the floor. As their leaves turned transparent and brown.
I felt strangely pleased by their deaths. They deserved it for being so fucking joyful. They knew nothing about life and sadness. Had they even been picked yet when Jeff died? Did they even know what pain was?
But then, I eventually got around to feeling that I should clean them up. And I couldn't do it.
Putting away the vases and throwing out the flowers meant that his funeral had happened and he was indeed dead. That time was still marching on. That I was removing the last vestiges marking the loss of his life from our home.
So those bloody flowers stayed for a long time past their past due date....Always reminding me that Jeff was dead. And that things die. And that life sucks.
I eventually threw the flowers in the composter hoping that this would make me feel that they would be reborn in some other fabulous growing green thing. The vases (aka white cheesy grecian vases adorned with fake plastic ribbons) I held onto until last week. I thought I'd feel guilty releasing these icons of his death. But I didn't. He had never seen them....and it was my last 'screw you' to those stupidly joyous giddy buds.
I will never give flowers to someone mourning again. The care, the upkeep, the reminder and the in-your-face optimism is too much for a person in pain.
Instead, I will send a fabulous casserole with no return address so they don't feel that they need to send a bloody thank-you card for something they would have preferred didn't happen.
(Sorry if I sound ungrateful.....just wondering at the reasoning behind this tradition)


dara Ickes said...

I too feel the same way about sending cut flowers to a funeral. I hate looking at them as they die sitting on the mantel or table. I have taken to sending a live plant that can be planted outside and live on, blooming in the spring or something like that. Something hardy that will last. I have two trees in my back yard, one for my mom and one for my dad. It is comforting to see them bloom in the spring and change colors in the fall.

Pamela said...

This is a really good way to reach out to people and splash cold water on their faces. Wake up! Thanks for waking me up today...

Hallie said...

I totally agree with you! I would hate to give someone something else that would die!Even live plants put pressure on a person! I have two plants from my grandmother's funeral and feel such pressure to keep them alive! I want them to flurish and grow as a happy reminder not a sad one...a year and counting and they are still green! Crossing my fingers...

Joanna said...

This is interesting, because Jews don't do flowers for funerals/deaths. Perhaps it's because of some of the sentiment you express here. When a thoughtful, non-Jewish friend sent me flowers after my boyfriend died, I tossed them, still living, into the trash. I couldn't look at them, knowing why they were there.

Mama_Bear_Sarah said...

i gave every last plant and flower away ...and the ones that ended up at my house somehow, misteriously ended up in the garbage as soon as everyone was gone.
someone got flowers for Valentine's Day at work today. They smelled wonderful but now all bouquets smell like "funeral" to me. gag.
I LOVE that you posted this and made me feel like less of an ungrateful alien.

Jen said...

Initially I loved the cut flowers too, but found the upkeep to be overwhelming as well. I even asked a friend to come over and take care of them (water, thin out/toss, etc.) and felt guilty, but I just couldn't do it myself. However, almost 2 years later I still have the orchid and the 3-in-one-pot houseplant gift. They now remind me of how life does go on, and good can come from grief.

オテモヤン said...


Anonymous said...

My grandmother (whom I loved very much) passed away in 2005 from a brain tumor. She knew she was terminal and made her own funeral arrangements. Just before her death she kept telling us she "wanted lots of flowers at her funeral". I didn't ask her why but I kept wondering about what seemed an odd request. Her wish was granted and there were LOTS of fresh cut flowers at her funeral. They were loaded into the hearse with her casket. At the cemetary, watching her casket being lowered into the ground and dirt shoveled on top was more than I could bear. I ended up leaving and returned later after everyone had gone. When I returned to her grave I found a mound of fresh dirt surrounded by living green grass. However, the mound of dirt was barely visible. The flowers in vases were laid on the ground as well as the wreaths and they completely blanketed her grave. I smiled and realized why she wanted lots of flowers. The mental image of her grave will be with me for the rest of my life.


leigh in the sav said...

jackie, this a beautiful and wise post. i had never considered this, but will always do so from here on...

i have always thought sending thank you's after some has passed is the most ridiculous tradition and would gladly like to see it fall by the wayside.

Jill Schacter said...

I felt guilty for at least a year for the thanks yous I didn't send. I was completely obsessed with thanking everyone, but then I became hostile to it, and I just couldn't do it anymore. Thank you for showing me that I was not alone in my ingratitude. I do not feel hostile about thanking you, however :)

Susan said...

Oh - I feel the same way. We took about the floral arrangements from my son's funeral at the reception and gave them to all the children to play with. Unfortunately we ended up with a plant at our house. I don't keep plants alive well. Something to do with the watering regularly. Anyway, I now have this plant that I have managed to keep barely alive for 2+ years. It is a burden. I feel like if I let it die then I am letting my son die again. When we go on vacation I am stressed the plant will die.

What was worse to me is that at a children's grief support group my kids went to, they had them plant sunflower seeds and bring them home for us to nurture and keep alive and make bloom. I was livid! We were going away for two weeks. I stuck them outside but, of course, they died. What kind of cruel thing is that to do to a child? No pressure on us grieving parents...