So, I have a love/hate relationship with funeral flowers. Some days they are my friend, as I spritz the casket spray with water to freshen the petals before placing them on the coffin. The droplets glisten on the petals, adding warmth and colour to the slender box locked in the back of the hearse. They smell amazing- the white lily my favourite, while other funeral directors sneeze and splutter at the strong scent. Once at the church or chapel, it’s an honour to place the flower arrangements on the altar artistically, so the guests can see all the wonderful work florists spent their time creating.
These dear colourful blooms have also catapulted me into situations where I wish I could jump into the burial plot myself.
In the early days while in training, my conductor explained that prior to the service we would be doing a drive by. A drive by??? We weren’t gangsters! Were there guns hidden in the under carriage of the hearse? ‘What exactly is, erm…a drive by?’ I whispered to him, and he looked at me as if I had just asked if he would care to drive off a cliff together.
‘You don’t know what a drive by is?’
‘Well, I am a fan of hip hop, I know some great music artists who have been wounded in drive bys.’
The expression on his face had me wanting to melt into my polished shoes. Turned out, a “drive by” entails driving to the decedent’s home on route to the funeral. The hearse stops outside the home and the conductor takes a moment to put a rose in the letterbox, bows respectfully, then returns to the hearse. I shed a tear the first time I witnessed this. We see so many bodies get rolled into our facility on stretchers and while we care and respect every single one of them, we don’t have much of a back story of their life besides what disease or accident snatched them from life.
“Drive Bys” became special to me. You had the opportunity to see their home, the gardens they once watered, the patios they swept. When I became a conductor, I felt blessed to stand at the front of the deceased’s home to place the rose in their letterbox which I’m sure was usually filled with utility bills- envelopes they needn’t worry about anymore.
So now Drive Bys are important to me, but that very first day I learnt about them, I felt excruciatingly embarrassed.
Then there was the time I had to carry a flower arrangement twice the size of myself down the (very long) aisle of a church before the family arrived. It was an Italian service- fellow funeral directors know just how extravagant these services are!
Hardly able to see over the flowers in my hands, quivering with the weight, I tripped and face planted into the arrangement. Pollen on my face and swamped beneath flowers, I envisioned my headstone: “Death by flowers at funeral. Please do not gift flowers as they were her enemy.”
Theeeeen, that day. THAT DAY. The family had requested they would like to take the casket spray home with them. At the burial, there is a crucial moment prior to lowering the coffin into the earth when the funeral director skilfully removes the casket spray and places them to the side on the flower grate. I forgot to do this because, well… it’s me. And as I pushed that lever, the coffin descending into the ground, my face burned with shock as I watched in terror-the flowers were lowering, lowering, lowering, six feet under. Thankfully the family were okay with my error, and still gave us a great review and even sent a thank you card. Phew! I later discovered the cemetery staff could have retrieved them.
There are too many cases to count how funeral flowers can stress a funeral director. From placing the wrong arrangement on a casket, to the florist not delivering them at all. From forgetting to check the “flower room” at chapels for flowers that may have been sent by family members unable to attend, to having them slide off the casket while driving the hearse around corners because someone forgot to put flower matting beneath the display to prevent them moving.
Aaah. Funeral flowers.
These adventures aside, have you ever wondered why there are so many darn flowers at a funeral?
Historically, flowers were placed around the casket to ward off the smells that emanated from the decaying process of the body. Clearly we now have better techniques to deal with a stinky corpse than using flower petals, but a lovely way to mask decomposition all the same.
There was once even the role of the Flower Lady. The flower lady was similar to the pall bearer role, but instead of carrying the casket, the ladies carried the flowers from the funeral service to the flower vehicle then set them up graveside.
Today, this role is called… ALL OF US!
Today, the FDA – Funeral Director’s Assistant does this – hence why I had a face smothered with pollen.
Whether the fragrance makes you sneeze or the heaviness of some arrangements boosts the chiropractic industry, funeral flowers are sentimental for many reasons. It can be difficult for mourners to put feelings into words, and flowers show sympathy and express love.
I do believe, flowers should sent to the grieving AFTER the service also, once all is buried and done with. Grief outlasts sympathy, so take the time to send a bunch once in a while to someone who lost a partner, friend, child- anyone! Flowers brighten anyone’s day – unless you’re falling into them or accidentally putting the incorrect arrangement on a coffin.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Earth laughs in flowers.” This quote sure does describe my humorous experiences with funeral flowers, but when it comes to grieving, I like to say “The Soul is Smiling in Flowers.”
And here’s to the whole darn team being The Flower Lady!