It’s Saturday morning. I am curled up on my lounge in my PJ’s perusing my local paper. A fresh breeze from the balcony is keeping me cool. I’ve flipped through the local news, quickly glanced at a few ads and have now reached the classified section, more specifically the death notices: an ideal place to observe some of the essential issues of life.
I scan the names. No-one I recognize; not today anyway. I hastily collate the ages of the recently departed and am relieved to find the largest group has passed away in their 80s with the second largest group, in their 90s. Into these groups, I also include any references to great-grandmother/father (and occasionally grandmother/father). These figures seem to confirm the significant increase in life expectancy over the last fifty and align somewhat with national statistics collated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I relax a little. I have only just entered my seventh decade.
There are a few notices that mention the cause of death. However, further down in many of the notices where the funeral arrangements are being outlined, often the words ‘in lieu of flowers’ appears, then, ‘please consider a donation to (and here follows the clues to the possible cause of many deaths) Alzheimer’s Australia’, or ‘The Heart (or Stroke) Foundation’ or ‘The Cancer Council’ or one of the many other worthy disease-fighting research-related charities. But something bothers me here. I ask myself – when did we decide to stop adorning funerals and houses of loved ones with flowers in times of mourning and choose to instruct others to make donations instead?
I tear myself away from the comfortable lounge and turn to Google for help. According to a number of websites, flowers have long been associated with funerals – to signify beauty and love and as a symbol of immortality: the transitory nature of life.
Further investigation takes me to Wikipedia. Here I am informed that the phrase ‘in lieu of flowers’, has been included in obituaries and funeral notices for over 100 years. Further along, it adds that currently up to 80% of these also include a similar directive.
From the very moment I was diagnosed with cancer nearly four years ago, my thoughts turned to the inevitability of my eventual passing. For comfort and faith in this troubling time, I referred to The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Then I was able to unwind and let the future take its own course. The prognosis for the particular type of cancer wasn’t reassuring and every visit to a medical practitioner since my treatment keeps reminding me of that fact.
“Are you still here?” although not specifically articulated seems to be a common sentiment behind questions raised at each half-yearly check-up.
“I certainly am,” I always reply with my body language, hiding my obsession with death and funeral notices in newspapers behind a wry smile.
Despite the medical professions statistical analysis of my odds of survival, I continue to maintain enough fine health to continue to ponder my mortality. It bothers me no end that flowers are no longer seen as an integral part of the funeral service and grieving process for family and friends. While I have no objection to anyone making a donation to a worthy cause on my behalf on my passing I still fancy flowers at my funeral: lots of them. I’ve told this to everyone close to me.
So central to and highlighted in my future funeral notice will be the words ‘please bring flowers’.
While I will not be there to enjoy them I am savouring the thought already…in the here and now.
P.S. There were a couple of funeral notices that have touched my soul during my continual inspection since that day. One went: ‘By request no flowers. Plant one in your garden even if only in a pot.’ The other one went: ‘In lieu of flowers please consider performing a random act of kindness or making a donation to a charity of your choice’.
Jenny England is a writer and illustrator living in Kiama, Australia. Over the years she has worked as a journalist and has had numerous non-fiction articles published in a wide variety of magazines. Now retired from the hustle and bustle of daily life she is writing about serious aged care and end of life matters. She also writes speculative fiction when she isn’t busy with her other hobbies: knitting, astrology and mail art.