Flowers have become an expected offering at many significant events in society. Romantic occurrences, such as weddings, anniversaries, and expressions of love are commonly marked by the gift of floral arrangements. We adorn hospital rooms with bouquets in the event of illness or birth. At the other end of the spectrum, flowers are used to memorialize and pay tribute to the deceased. Where did this practice originate from? How has it evolved to the expectation of flowers at funerals today? Let’s take a look at the history of flowers at funerals.
Archaeologists studying ancient cultures have long tried to determine what kind of lives our ancestors lived. One discovery, in particular, included a skeleton buried over 60,000 years ago in a cave which protected the remains from the elements. This skeleton was found with traces of pollen on the bones. While there are different theories proposing the method by which the pollen got there, leading scientists believe that ancient societies-- despite their simplicity-- were capable of mourning and honoring their dead.
We also know from more recent archaeological finds that there is a long standing tradition of adorning or paying tribute to the dead. In Ancient Egypt, funeral rites often included offerings of food, idols, and riches to be entombed with the departed. Glyphs often portrayed images of the deceased holding lotus flowers millennia ago. Furthermore, near the beginning of this millennium, an Egyptian tomb was discovered with traces of a floral garland as depicted in many of the funeral glyphs.
Flowers and plants also made an appearance in England in the 1700s. Garlands of cypress, as well as handheld sprigs of rosemary, ivy, bay leaves, and laurel were often a part of funeral processions. The use of evergreen tree cuttings was said to be symbolic of immortality. The inclusion of various green plants represented resurrection, as these plants would often seemingly die during the winter and be reborn in the spring.
It’s believed that flowers had a more practical purpose at one time. The floral aroma acted as a mask on some of the less pleasant odors present before technology (such as cooling equipment) was available. Flowers can also help mask the smell of embalming chemicals, which was also an issue before the development and regulation of proper handling and ventilation techniques.
Flowers in themselves are symbolic. A sign of renewed life and vitality, different flowers also have various meanings associated with their display. Mourners will often consider these different meanings when selecting an arrangement to add meaning to the display. Beyond the sentiment, flowers can help improve the atmosphere and long-term association with the event. They add an aura of beauty and life to what is often a day of sorrow, which helps develop a sense of satisfaction with the event during the grieving process.
After the Funeral
The loved ones of the bereaved often find themselves with an abundance of floral arrangements after a service. This can be overwhelming and is often why people ask for a charitable donation in lieu of flowers. That being said, flowers can still be a touching gift. Here are a few things one can do with flowers after the funeral:
Give arrangements to family members at the end of the service.
Donate the flowers to a local hospice, hospital, retirement home, or church.
Leave the flowers at the gravesite.
Preserve the flowers.
Create your own potpourri in a memorial dish.
Press the flowers into a memorial book or photo album.
Have your flowers turned into jewelry keepsakes.
Make candles with the flowers inside.
Fill a shadow box with the petals.
Remember to remove any cards or notes from the arrangements so you can thank the person who provided this gift.
Floral arrangements continue to be prominent in many rites of passage and significant events in one’s life, from birth to death. This prominence could be tied to the Biophilia Hypothesis, which proposes that humans desire to feel intimately connected with nature and other living systems. Regardless of the nature of the event-- one of joy or sorrow-- floral arrangements can add a memorable element of grace.
To create a bespoke funeral arrangement, please click here to contact Bloom.