Funeral Flowers

For my mother’s death, I was the grateful recipient of that week’s chapel flowers. The notion that only women can receive a bouquet is pish posh; I put them in a vase and stood them on my desk extracting as much pleasure as any female. Interestingly, the sympathy cards, too, depicted flowers. Of the 21 I received (and to whose senders I offer my thanks), 16 of them depicted flowers, the remaining opting for trees, birds or boats.

My aunt, uncle and I watched her funeral on a widescreen television set at 2am. The mourners present were invited to come up to the front and place a flower on the coffin, which had been plucked from a large bouquet by the undertaker. This is not a custom I have seen on our islands, and I thought it rather interesting. Once again, we see flowers being used in the grieving process and mourning rituals. It set me a wondering.

Flowers are beautiful, yet dying is so terribly ugly. Do they provide a pleasant distraction from the grim paraphernalia of death? The flowers are themselves already dead, of course, cut by the florist and separated off from the roots and leaves, the brief weeks we can enjoy them belying the terminal snipping they underwent. In earlier times, the stench of a decaying body might have been curbed and sweetened by the blooms’ scent. Whatever the origin, whatever the purpose, we Christians are reminded by old Job that our lives are but temporal:

He comes forth like a flower and fades away; he flees like a shadow and does not continue. (14:2)

Isaiah the prophet in 40:8 contrasts our short tenures with God’s word’s durable permanence:

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

Furthermore, the Shulamite in Song of Solomon 2:12 suggests that flowers are a symbol of long-awaited joy:

The flowers appear on the earth;

The time of singing has come,

And the voice of the turtledove

Is heard in our land.

Flowers fade and die, but their seeds grow afresh and supply the following year with colour and scent. Where, in this case, the deceased now is, I cannot tell. Her freshly departed body was observed smiling, but for what reason, I also cannot say. I base not my theology on sentiment and wishful thinking, nor expect my loved ones to be given special exemption from their sins apart from Christ’s wonderful offer. I simply trust that the Judge of all the earth will do right, and have mercy on whom He will have mercy.

I am the rose of Sharon,

And the lily of the valleys.

Like a lily among thorns,

So is my love among the daughters.

Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods,

So is my beloved among the sons.

I sat down in his shade with great delight,

And his fruit was sweet to my taste. Song of Solomon 2:1-3