Giving Condolence Flowers
It was 11 years ago; 11 years ago when I first gave a condolence flower to a friend. My friend was just 13 years old and she was lying in the coffin while I stood there, not wanting to believe what was before me.
Till this day, I still hold vivid memories of Daisy who passed away back in 2009. I was 13 then, and as a young teenager, my mind just could not comprehend what had just happened. I had pontang (pretended to be sick to miss school) school that day, when about 2.30pm after school hours I received a phone call from a school mate I was never really close to. It was odd. The moment I picked up the call, all I could hear was my friend crying as she struggled to tell me that Daisy had died. “What do you mean Daisy died?”, I asked, simply completely confounded. She just kept repeating, through her tears, that Daisy had died and that I should come to school now. As I lived just opposite the school, I ran as fast as I could and reached pretty soon. It was then that the school had gathered all students in our cohort to announce the death of my dear friend, Daisy. I was extremely shocked, and at the same overwhelmed by this sense of unbearable heaviness. There were so many words unspoken, there were so many regrets that I had.
I had gotten to know Daisy earlier that year. We were extremely close for a while, but towards the middle of the year, we somehow drifted apart. You know how things can be and how life can get in the way of relationships. She was someone whose smiled shined brighter than most, a beautiful soul; someone who was slightly mischievous and yet, ultimately was an all-round good kid at heart. I simply could not understand how something like this could have happened to someone like her, someone so precious and good.
I went home that day, took a shower, and cried my heart out. A part of me simply did not want to believe that I had just lost a friend at such a tender age. She was a friend whom I held dearly in my heart and yet, I allowed her to slip away from me during the last few days of or friendship. That same day, I went onto Daisy’s Facebook account for a reason I just could not decipher. I read all the messages her friends and schoolmates left for her on her Facebook wall and it was just heartbreaking. I have never been good with words, but I tried my best that day to write her a letter. A simple letter. It was then that I realized language really could not encompass the depth and extent of human emotions and grief. I burnt the letter later, in the hopes that she would receive it from me in the afterlife.
The school informed us that we were allowed to go for the wake. Hence, on the second day, some of us were sent via the school bus to attend it. After the wake, the school informed us that we will not be attending her funeral. Hence, if we wanted to pass anything to her family, we should do so at a specific time the next day at the general office.
That very night, I kept wondering and agonising over what I should give her. What should you give to someone who had already passed from this mortal world? Then I remembered vaguely that people do give funeral flowers. I was very young then and the only place I knew that I could get flowers in the wee hours of the morning was at the market nearest to my house. That morning, I woke up earlier than usual. I took a bus down to the market and I remembered the auntie asking me: ‘Girl ah, what do you want? What are you here for?” I did not know what to say. I did not know what condolences flowers actually were to be honest, and rightly so; why should a child know of death?
I briefly told the auntie that that I was here to get a bouquet of flowers for a friend that passed away. There was a brief moment of silence before the auntie began shuffling about preparing the bouquet. There were many questions in her eyes, but she did not probe further, for which I am immensely grateful.
I was able to give Daisy flowers in the end. In a way, gifting her flowers had brought some comfort to my heart. Through gifting her flowers, I wanted her to know that I would always be thinking of her and that she would never be forgotten. She would be shining ever so brightly in my own memory and in the memory of those whose lives she had touched.
So, this is the story of my first gifting of condolences flowers to a precious friend of mine, a friend who is still missed by all of us today. I forgot to mention – Daisy isn’t her real name, but I thought it would be a fitting one for this article. Daisies represent innocence and purity, and my dear, dear, friend was exactly that – a pure innocent flower that died before it could even bloom.
Receiving Condolence Flowers
Over the years, I have lost many loved ones. Too many. Their wakes and funerals had one thing in common however: the condolence flowers displayed. Over the years, I have seen how flowers played a particular role in wakes and funerals, with my colleague having previously written about it on this website too – Expressing To The Family Of The Decease in Singapore .
This might just be self-indulgence at work, but what I want to share here is my experience of receiving condolences flowers in the aftermath of a loved one’s passing. It was 14 years ago when instead of giving, I first received condolences flowers. It was at my paternal grandfather’s funeral.
For sure, condolences flowers are important for many reasons. They enable us to send fragments of our thoughts to those who have passed. It is our letter to those in the afterlife. It is a symbolic act of expressing one’s love, and perhaps in some cases, regret. It is also symbolic of the messages of support that the giver would like to convey to the grieving family. From my perspective, as I saw the many, many flowers surrounding my grandfather’s coffin, I was comforted. I was comforted by the thought that although my grandfather has passed away, his influence is still deeply felt upon so many people. Those people kept him in their thoughts and, as cliché as this sounds, he still lives on within all of us. Although they are such small creatures, flowers enable us to express this complex array and multitude of emotions.
Some say that the beauty of human life lies in its very transience. We all die, death is inevitable, our time is limited – and that is why life is beautifully precious. And perhaps the flower is a powerful symbol of the fleeting beauty of life.
I do not wish to glamourise death; I do want to say though that flowers at funerals are a way for us to acknowledge the end of an individual’s life, but also, to celebrate the life that was once lived. It is a way of celebrating the beauty and heart of that person, which is why in some cultures, funerals are bittersweet celebrations, rather than a wholly sorrowful mournings.
Just a few weeks ago in 2020, my god-grandmother passed away too. She had been ill for a while and it was her time was up. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was difficult for many of her extended relatives and friends to attend her wake. The wake was only limited to ten persons at a time. I am sure it was a difficult time for many of us who could not attend the wake. Imagine the mixture of confusion, regret, and sorrow that would overwhelm one who could not even attend the wake to pay their last respects to someone they loved dearly. That grief needs an outlet and closure, and oftentimes, physically paying our respects to someone at a wake is means of attaining that.
But there is also something else – flowers. My god-grandmother’s coffin was surrounded by an awe-inspiring display of flowers. These gifts were a strange mixture of vivid and intense emotions, a swirling storm of grief, sympathy, and frustration felt by those who just could not be there. Flowers, though never an exact substitute for being there physically, is however a way to mediate the pain felt by death and embody the longing to express one’s condolences to the family. Perhaps in the times of enhanced social distancing, flowers are, more than ever, an important conduit for the communication of our thoughts and emotions, to anyone of this world and the world beyond. After all, language at times fails to express the unspeakable grief that we feel when we lose a loved one. Perhaps flowers, though impossible too to fully express the intensity of emotions, may be an unassuming yet powerful way of doing so.
For all of us, death will come knocking at our doors one day. Until that fateful day when it is our turn to be whisked away to the afterlife, unfortunately, we will experience the many, many, deaths of others. Some may be distant acquaintances; others may be closer to our hearts. What is always held constant however is grief and this need to seek closure. Closure is… difficult to say the least. For some it may take months; for others, a whole lifetime. But what we need to learn from all of this is that we need to look death squarely in the face and recognise its presence in our lives. It should not be a taboo topic, instead, it should be talked about. This is especially so in the aftermath of experiencing a death. Talking about it helps to alleviate intense emotions of depression and grief. Another way of doing so is paying your last respects through gifts. There’s a reason why flowers are given at funerals, as I have elaborated above and as seen in other articles. The fact remains: through the dual act of giving and receiving, they help us, the living, cope with grief.
It is inevitable really that I would start thinking of Daisy again once I began writing this article. I think in large part over the years I have avoided the topic and thought of her death. I am sure you would understand the reasons for this. However, maybe that is why I still feel tormented by her passing. Every thought of Daisy is tinged with regret and what-ifs – what if I had held onto our friendship? Would I be living with less regrets? What about her? I wonder what she had been thinking of days before her passing.
The last question, in particular, haunts me.
This is why I wish to visit her at the temple soon. I will bring along a bouquet of flowers for her, white orchids perhaps, to place at her tablet. Maybe one day, when I am older, wiser, and have given more thought to death, I will be more at peace with her passing. Maybe one day, when I have stared death squarely in the face, I will remember Daisy’s life and mischievous manner with soft and tender amusement.
Maybe one day.
Till then, I will continue to visit her and all my loved ones who have passed onto the next life, with flowers in hand, and gratitude in my eyes – gratitude for their undeniable influence on my life, and for the fullness of the lives they have led.
Stephanie Heng, the writer is a post graduate from the University of Oxford and a former content contributor for The Straits Times. Copyright © 24hrscityfloirst.com
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