When my sister Anna died, I sent a text shout-out to my friends asking that they not send flowers.
I am going to sound like a total ingrate in this post, but honestly, that is not my intention.
For me, having already lost my husband the year before, the arrival of a bouquet on my doorstep was the harbinger of something sad. I knew my friends wanted to do something for me in my time of sorrow (and they did in a spectacular fashion), but I’d had it with the plants.
To be fair I’ve faced the same dilemma: What do you do for the aggrieved to let them know in a tangible way, that you are thinking of them and to show your respect? I had also subscribed to the “let’s send a plant, it lasts longer than a bouquet” school of thought. But if you think about it, it’s as much about the giver as the receiver. After all, it will be a more constant reminder of your thoughtfulness.
I still have some of the plants that were sent to me right after James died. At first, it was a bit of a chore to keep them watered and alive, and seemed to be too much responsibility for me to handle. Now I’m almost afraid to let them die as it will signify the passage of another loss and break a link to that monumental event in my life. So if someone is deeply grieving, perhaps it best not to pile on an additional chore – even an easy one like watering a plant?
But that leaves the givers in a conundrum. What to do for their family member, colleague or friend. It really is up to the individual, and what you feel would be helpful. I’m not suggesting we dispense with sending floral tributes (just not to me!). One of the more practical gestures after James died was made by a group of friends who had a package of pre-made frozen meals sent to my house. It gave me the relief of not having to think about such mundane tasks as what to eat, and I certainly had no intention of preparing myself hot meals those first few months.
Since James died around St. Patrick’s Day, the Martin’s dropped off corned beef and cabbage. My brother-in-law (the one married to my sister Anna) remarked at the time what a great meal that was. I had a house full of people at that time and so it was incredibly thoughtful and practical. One gesture in a long line of generosity extended to me by friends and neighbors during that critical time.Photo by Finn Gross Maurer on Unsplash
Many cultures have a way better way to commemorate loss than Americans do. My hat’s off to Mexico, with its Day of the Dead celebration, which is about more than cool-looking sugar skull makeup, but is a way to show respect and joy for those we have lost via a two-day celebration.
Americans tend to keep grief on the down low. We leave flowers and casseroles on doorsteps. Grief is handled privately behind closed doors, boxed away and tied with a sloppy bow too soon after a loss.
The reality is everyone impacted by a tragedy has a sugar skull mask. We keep stumbling across them kept in that box from time to time, too fearful to bring them to light.