Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Tradition: Sending Flowers for the Dead

I went to church to attend a weekday mass, last Thursday evening. To my delight, there were flowers all over the place, beautiful arrangements here and there. The parish priest explained to me that there had been a funeral mass earlier.

I started to wonder about the origins of sending flowers for the dead. Seeing the flowers seemed to brighten and beautify the church. These flowers were not any different from other arrangements that we may have for other occasions. This particular mass was a special occasion, to celebrate the death into life of someone dear.

These first three arrangements consisted of roses and lilies. These two flowers are considered to be among some of the very fragrant flowers. In the olden days, when there was no embalming of the dead, fragrant flowers were used to mask the odor of the decomposing corpse. This practice started some centuries ago. 

These last three arrangements - made up of daisies, mimosas, baby's breath, mums, roses, poppies, tulips, and paper roses - were more ornamental, with very little scent coming from them.

Now a days, we send flowers to express our sentiments of condolence for the passing of someone. That someone may be a relative, a close friend, or a business associate. It is a way of honoring the dead. It is also a way of expressing to the living that we share in their loss. It is an expression of our love, sympathy and support at this difficult time.

Among Catholics, sending a Mass card is now becoming a popular practice. Information is given in the card about mass offerings for the eternal repose of the soul of the deceased. Prayers and masses for the dead are also comforting to the family members as they face the reality of sending off a love one on their final journey.

Having flowers at the wake, the funeral mass or service, and at the internment add beauty and warmth to the setting. I remember the beautiful wreaths and spray arrangements that we received when my father died, and after two years my mother. My siblings and I read the cards and were touched by the messages. The flowers were beautiful to behold, and some of them brought us memories of our mother's love for plants and flowers.

Among some of the Jewish sects' members sending flowers for the dead is not customary. They have other practices and customs to show their support for the grieving party.

From looking up this tradition, I ended up reading about the religious practices of other people. It reminded me of the burial ceremony I witnessed in Varanasi, India, on the Ganges River. That was a unique experience, so different from what I am accustomed to. If you are interested, here is a link on world religions and their funeral customs.

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