I was pulling out of the school parking lot when I saw the florist pulling a floral stand out of his van. He carefully carried the oversized stand of white flowers towards the nearby church.
I knew that the flower stand could mean only one thing: funeral flowers. Funeral flowers were being delivered on a beautiful, sunny Thursday morning. As I was enjoying a special outdoor event at school, someone else was preparing to say a final goodbye to their loved one. A mom or dad. A grandma or grandpa. A friend. Someone’s person—someone’s favorite person. And all I could think about was that day I stood inside the walk-in floral freezer, carefully inspecting the oversized floral arrangements for my own Dad’s funeral, which also coincided with the exact moment I realized he really was not coming back.
I have always loved fresh flowers. My husband regularly brings flowers home, and, when he doesn’t, I routinely buy them for myself. It is a simple indulgence that brings me so much joy. While my kitchen may be messy and chaotic, the flowers offer a respite of cheer and calm, reminding me to pause and enjoy the simple things as I drink my coffee. I sometimes remind myself to literally stop and smell them. Their simple presence gives me a sense of peace when everything else feels stressful and busy.
Which is why, when my Dad died unexpectedly, it felt surreal to be selecting flowers for such a sad occasion. I never knew how much work it was to plan a wake and funeral until those blurry, grief-filled days that followed my Dad’s death; there was the obituary to write, clothing to pick, photos to print, church reading to pick, a eulogy to plan—the list went on and on.
As my five siblings and I divvied up all the tasks to be done, I volunteered to oversee the floral arrangements. I felt strongly that everything should be just right; they needed to reflect the wonderful husband, father, and grandpa that was my Dad. I also wanted to shield my Mom the grief of dealing with the incredible minutia of funeral planning, including the seemingly trivial task of selecting flowers. I couldn’t make it better, I couldn’t take the pain away, but I could make sure that we had the best wake and funeral—including the most gorgeous flowers possible—as a testament and visual representation of the gaping hole that was left in our family with my Dad’s untimely death.
And so, two days after my Dad died, my older sister, Liz, and I stood together looking through books of floral arrangements at the nicest floral shop in town. It is one of those quaint floral shops with meandering walkways and elaborate seasonal displays brimming with gifts and knick-knacks. We were in the back of the shop, at an oversized wooden table, where the florists put together arrangements, and where, apparently, the nitty gritty task of selecting funeral arrangements occurred. As we pored over the book, the florist carefully offered advice about funeral arrangements while simultaneously putting together other arrangements. She walked the line between helpful and non-intrusive perfectly.
My sister and I agreed: it had be red roses.
My Dad was a hopeless romantic, and he had always given my mom red roses on her birthday, valentine’s day, and many days, just because. For someone who was a career military man, he, perhaps surprisingly, wore his heart on his sleeve and loved grand romantic gestures.
After more flipping through the book, we selected a massive spray of red roses to be placed on his casket, as well as a few other arrangements for the church, including two stands like the ones I had seen being carried into the church the other day.
I wanted it to be right. I wanted it to be perfect. I cared about flowers, and the stakes had never felt higher for making sure that I was getting it just right. I couldn’t bring him back. I couldn’t make this better. But, I could pick out the best damn floral arrangement possible.
Two days later—the day of my father’s wake—my sister and I returned to the floral shop to check the arrangements and pay for the flowers. The florist walked us back to giant walk-in cooler room and showed us the most beautiful arrangement of red roses I’d ever seen. They were perfect. They were exactly what my Dad would’ve wanted. Expect he wasn’t here anymore, and I was picking out flowers for his casket.
The reality of his death came crashing down on me as I stared at the flowers. “They’re beautiful,” I said to the florist as I burst into shoulder-shaking, heaving tears. It was real. It was happening. My Dad had died, and we were getting the most beautiful flowers ever for this, the saddest day of my life. How could something so beautiful exist solely to celebrate such a tragedy? They were such a beautiful monument to the grief I felt that it seemed surreal. Or maybe . . . . ironic, though ironic doesn’t seem to be the right word to fully express the simultaneous grief I felt as well as gratitude for a job well done.
He wasn’t coming back, and I knew that, in the end, those flowers didn’t matter. But for me, they provided some small measure of solace. My Dad would’ve liked them. He would’ve smiled. He would’ve wanted us to be happy, and I knew that.
After the funeral, we each took a rose or two from the casket. For a long time, I saved the single dried red rose I’d taken. I laid it on my living room bookcase next to my dried wedding bouquet of pink roses. Then one day, while doing a massive deep cleaning of my living, I noticed the dried red rose sitting sadly in the corner. It didn’t evoke any emotions—not happiness, not sadness, just nothingness. It had no power; I had moved on. There was no reason to keep it. So I unceremoniously threw it in the trash bag full of broken toys, dried play-doh, and cracker wrappers.
I don’t think about my Dad’s funeral flowers these days, except for that recent day in the church parking lot. And I think I know deep down that my Dad would want flowers to mean happiness, life, and love, as they always had to me. He would want me to remember him by the red rose bushes in my yard, or the sunny mixed bouquet on the kitchen table. He’d want me to remember him through pictures and shared memories with my Mom and my siblings.
So that is what I do. I try to appreciate the beauty of every day life, whether that’s listening to my toddlers’ laughter, playing with the kids in the front yard, or smelling the bouquet of flowers on the table. Those flowers on my table remind me not only of my Dad, but also to celebrate the ordinary, joyful moments of every day. Because those moments? They’re worth celebrating.