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What’s with the Dead Flowers?

DeadFlowers (640x480)A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post that included the unexpected death of a local man by drowning in the loch just a few minutes from where I live. As I walked past the still, calm water again today, I saw these flowers.

I’d love to hear some other perspectives on this, because I don’t follow the thinking behind placing cut flowers that are themselves dying in a spot where someone has died. It happened by the thousands when Princess Diana died, and I couldn’t understand it then either.

Of course people need some way to mark the occasion, and to express their grief. That is essential. But I’ve never been sure why it appears to be the thing to do these days to use dying flowers in cellophane wrapping (that’s going to prevent them decomposing into the ground) – surely if anything it emphasizes the fact that the person is dead?

I’d rather be acknowledging the death in a way that more fully serves life itself – at the very least letting the flowers die naturally into the ground, as all life eventually does.

Anyone have any thoughts on this? What do you do, or what would you do?

Just post in the comments section of the blog.



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  1. Kat Tozier on June 16, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Hello Jane – This post hits home for me: I abhor the practice of flowers at funerals – it’s the smell as much as the metaphor. When my Mama died, I had a permanent wreath made up and it was displayed at the funeral with an eternity candle, and now it hangs in my office. Recently, when my guy’s grandfather passed away, rather than give his mother flowers, I gave her an Endless Summer hydrangea that will come back and bloom year after year in her yard and (hopefully) remind her of loving memories of her Dad each spring. I like “the spirit goes on eternally” metaphor far better than “the body has died” metaphor.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on June 16, 2016 at 7:29 pm

      That’s a lovely idea Kat – to have a permanent wreath, and a living plant. It doesn’t mark the spot where someone died of course; and that’s fine for some people. There seems to be a difference here between ‘marking the spot where someone died’ and ‘marking the occasion of someone’s death’.

  2. Barbara on June 16, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Hi Jane – It is indeed a burgeoning trend and I also think it’s odd. sometimes it is teddy bears, and crosses. It’s very common here to see crosses with plastic flowers at the site of traffic fatalities, at the side of the road. I suppose it’s developed from the custom of funeral wreaths and flowers. I started to question that too, after my mother-in-law’s funeral when there were huge, undoubtedly very expensive, flower arrangements that were sent to the church and then displayed in the hall for the meal afterwards, and then….well we asked people to take flowers home with them, and one display stayed in the church, but it seemed sad to think that they would otherwise be thrown out, and people also felt awkward about taking them with them (because they were associated with a death?).

    Back to the loch-side, roadside, and otherwise placed flowers (especially in cellophane), teddies, photos, etc. You’re right, the cellophane and other non-vegetation things form trash. Someone has to clean up the soggy, decomposing mess. People do leave flowers on graves and memorial markers, but there’s usually a weekly cleanup of decaying flowers that the church or cemetery provides. Are these site-of-a-death memorials a way to say “someone died here”? They only seem to appear at the site of accidents, or murders, or perhaps suicides too. Outside deaths, but not inside deaths. Sudden unexpected deaths. Is it a manifestation of superstition, a warning, a warding-off, not just a form of memorial ? (I’m just thinking aloud here and rambling.)

    I think in the case of Princess Diana, it was hugely more complicated though – an expression of collective anger as well as grief.

    Very interested to hear others’ thoughts. Have a great time in Devon Jane!

  3. Wendy on June 16, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    Hi, I think it is a reference to the impermanence of all things, flowers bloom, wither and die, and are beautiful and appreciated for the cycle of their life, it reminds us that we too wither and die and are beautiful whilst we live….
    xxx Wendy

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on June 16, 2016 at 7:26 pm

      Yes, I think you’re right Wendy – it is a symbol of the impermanence. In which case it would be better if the flowers were wrapped in paper which will decompose, instead of cellophane which may eventually wither and die but is likely to take hundreds of years and pollute the earth as it does!

  4. ann milston on June 16, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    Dear Jane,
    I totally ‘get’ why people leave flowers at the spot where someone has died. Although I believe the custom has come from abroad – it was never something British people did. It is something people can do that is a tangible sign of caring and empathy.

    However, what I wish is that people would think a bit about the environment, and remove plastic and cellophane wrappings and anything – like ribbon- which is not going to rot down. That bit really upsets me – the thought that some poor bird/creature might ingest the plastic or cellophane and suffer and die as a result of a bit of thoughtlessness – adding to distress generally.

    love, Ann M

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on June 16, 2016 at 7:39 pm

      I’m in agreement with you there, Ann. Interesting that the custom has come from abroad. I must research that 🙂

  5. Mary on June 16, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    I agree Jane, I think it is the cellophane as much as anything that upsets me when I see these memorials. There is a spot by the roadside near me (in fact, there are two) where people have died, and their families have put, in one case an artificial but very realistic small tree, and in the other a cross. And the other day I saw a bunch of flowers, withered, looking as if from someone’s garden, tied to a bench with a memorial plaque. My other feeling is about cut flowers in general which actually I don’t really like – I’d much rather have a living plant.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on June 16, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      Yes – living things seem to me to be more appropriate. Although Wendy also has a point about the impermanence of things. So interesting, to hear everyone’s opinions!

  6. Lorraine Traylor on June 17, 2016 at 10:57 am

    There is one that always comes to mind on my way to just about everywhere east of here. I can’t remember it not being there and I don’t remember it not ever being of great importance to the family as it is always decorated for the season and holiday etc…I wish I knew when it happened because I don’t ever remember it not being there. No need for details just generally how long has that family not just threw flowers there never to return but instead paid there respects to someone they obviously loved dearly. Sometimes I see the family there is always a small group, never one lone soul, cleaning and caring for the place they lost , I believe it was a young man, and I wonder if he looks down from heaven and sees his family mourn his loss or celebrate his life year after year without fail and I wonder what it would be like to be loved that much

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on June 17, 2016 at 5:39 pm

      That’s very touching Lorraine, thank you. I’m being humbled here, by some of the comments, and very grateful.

  7. Joanna L on June 17, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Hi there. 50 years ago today my beloved dad died from suicide. Today we went to the churchyard where there is a memorial to him on his parents grave and it felt lovely to leave him some beautiful roses from the garden and plant a rosemary for remembrance… which should produce lots of flowers and be bee friendly! Flowers are from the heart. (perhaps even those wrapped in cellophane?) love x x x

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on June 17, 2016 at 5:37 pm

      You are so right Joanna – and this is a lovely story you have told us. Perhaps I need to open my heart and see beneath the cellophane to the impulse. It also helps me realise that it helps some people to have a specific place to go to to remember a loved one. Right, next time I see flowers and cellophane, instead of being irritated I am going to transform that into compassion for those who are remembering. And I personally can always plant a living plant, or leave flowers without cellophane. Thank you for another perspective 🙂

  8. Mike Harmon on June 17, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    Hi Jane – When I lived in London, a 15 year old schoolgirl was killed by a lorry at a busy road junction. Within hours, the lamppost nearest was surrounded by candles, flowers and teddy bears. After a matter of weeks, the local council started to clear them away and was met with outright hostility by locals who demanded that it stay a landmark. 2 years later, it still has weathered ribbons, urine soaked teddy bears and general detritus all tied to the lamppost and has never been cleaned up. Whatever has gone has been taken by the foxes or washed away in the rain.
    I wonder if it is fear of not being seen to grieve. I worked near Parliament Square when Princess Diana died. My daily walk to work became treacherous as the flowers filled the pavements and the roads and had to be walked on to get past. You had to walk on the flowers as the alternative was to walk on the people who camped out who were wailing and howling. I felt very disconnected from all this and wondered if I was the freak for not wanting to join in.
    I feel some of the difficulty in mass mourning is, who is the first one to break rank? Who says, actually I have finished here and now need to go home? Is everybody waiting for someone else to be the first one?

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on June 18, 2016 at 5:22 am

      Mike, you make a very salient point here. Who indeed? And in fact, that’s what I’ve been wondering about the flowers I mentioned in the post. I’m away now for 3 weeks – I wonder if they will still be there when I get back? If there was no cellophane wrapping they would slowly disintegrate into the environment; but perhaps that is too distressing for the loved ones left behind. In which case, a more permanent market is what’s needed. That can’t be left at public points, a lamppost of whatever, and of course it is why we have gravestones and markers.

      Who, indeed, breaks the rank? Even when it is not a mass mourning – does anyone dare (like the council) to tidy up what will have become simply a mess.

      Thanks for your thought-provoking words.

  9. Pam Davies on June 22, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    When I planned to scatter my Father’s ashes at a local National Trust beauty spot I spoke to a NT warden who had no problem with the ashes … but said that they regularly have to clear away plastic-wrapped dead flowers etc which have been left with ashes. The wardens feel bad about doing so but would feel worse about leaving an eyesore in this lovely spot. We took a handful of roses from Father’s garden, which would rot gently into the landscape. Sadly a lot of people just don’t think things through.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on June 26, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      You’re right about not thinking things through Pam; I love what you chose to do instead.Thank you for your compassion and love

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