Snapshots of Grief: Flowers

Have you ever wondered why flowers are a common gift to someone who is hurting? I hadn’t really thought about it until several years back I took a class on floral design. I absolutely loved it and my budget at the time allowed me to frequently buy flowers to do my own arrangements at home. Unlike other hobbies which I often set aside because I “didn’t have time,” floral design was one I clung to. It didn’t take long to recognize that in the midst of the chaos I was living, I needed some reminder that beauty still existed.

Yesterday as I struggled through an anniversary of one of the losses I have experienced in my life. I bought flowers for the first time in a long time because I just needed some warmth and beauty. I didn’t even arrange them; I needed them to be in a vase and in a prominent place right away.

Flowers, even without our arranging them, are beautiful. They are bright, cheery reminders that even in the midst of the worst days of our lives, there is still something good and pure. We get each other flowers and plants during times of great pain to say: “All looks bleak right now, but don’t give up hope.”

As I type this, I have just a few inches between the flowers of yesterday and myself. I’m still reeling a bit from the emotional toll of this particular anniversary. I’m tired and could easily break down into tears again at any moment. But I lift my eyes from the screen and look at these flowers and just breathe a sigh of relief.

And I’ve seen that look many times in many faces. At a funeral. In a hospital room. At home once the initial shock of something starts to wear off. There’s a quiet relief in having something near at hand which not only reminds us of beauty but that we aren’t alone. Though I bought these flowers myself, I bought them to cheer my husband and I equally. They remind me that I don’t have to cry alone. This is true with flowers given by someone else as well.

This is why flowers not only provide comfort in times of hurt but joy in times of celebration. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and major milestones with flowers as well. We want to join in with others in their times of pain and in their times of triumph. We do so by adding beauty to the moment. We may not even notice the flowers; they can be in the background without our paying any attention. But we almost inevitably notice when they wilt, die, and are no longer present.

Their beauty may subtly encourage us, but they are noticeably absent when they are gone.

As believers we are told to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice. Flowers are by no means commanded of us, but they are a simple way we can enter into someone else’s situation. We can acknowledge their grief or their joy without having to say anything. Often, when it comes to grief, that is a relief to the one who isn’t experiencing the loss. We don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting. But we can offer a tangible signal that we care and are available. And it doesn’t have to cost us anything. I have a bottle full of flowers my husband has given me since we started dating. None of them were bought; they were picked on walks we went on or when he wanted to surprise me. A child knows the power and value of flowers and often will bring dandelions to someone who needs cheering up. These flowers we call weeds and do our best to get rid of are just as capable of bringing that cheer as the most expensive arrangement from a luxurious shop.

The point isn’t the price tag. It’s the offer of support in times of need. The offer of congratulations in times of joy. That is what we are called to do anyway; and flowers are a simple, effective way to accomplish that goal.