Guest Editorial by Sten Crissey, AAF

In Lieu of Love?

Interesting, isn’t it? When society hurts the most, people turn to flowers.

Our deeply felt need for flowers to soften pain came to mind recently with the unfathomable massacre of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Christians on Easter in Sri Lanka. Immediately and spontaneously, flowers appeared at the sites where the tragedies occurred. The common motivation among people was the simple desire to say, “I hurt. This is wrong. This must stop.”

In fact, with virtually all tragic events, the same script plays out. Think of 9/11, the shootings at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary, Las Vegas, Parkland, the Pittsburgh synagogue…and the list of mass tragedies goes on. In all those cases, flowers served as salve to soothe the collective souls of a grieving public.

And it is not just tragedies on this scale, either. When dignitaries’ lives end, tragically or not, impromptu floral memorials appear as if from the ether. John Lennon, Princess Diana, Prince, John McCain, and more recently, community activist and rapper Nipsey Hussle comprise a partial list illustrating the point.

Even in our local communities, unexpected deaths inspire floral tributes. Bouquets dot our highways, where accidents claimed lives of motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

So why is it that with the deaths of those we love the most—our wives, husbands, children, and grandparents—today’s social norms insist on the phrase “in lieu of flowers”?

There was a time when families would not think of a funeral service for a loved one without flowers. Likewise, friends and business associates of the deceased or the family expressed their love by sending flowers. For most florists, the result meant that through the 1960s, into the 1970s and beyond, funeral flowers were a significant, and in many cases, the majority of a flower shop’s business.

Circumstances changed, however, with the advent of the fundraiser. People began sending donations to charities in the name of the deceased. This gesture left the impression that something good, and of lasting value, had been done in their memory.

Over time, however, another reality has developed. With the commonplace “in lieu of flowers” directive, people have realized they can make very modest gifts to charities named by families. Their gifts will be acknowledged by the charity, the family will be informed of the gift—though not the dollar amount—and their obligation to the deceased has been satisfied.

Often sacrificed in this modern ritual, unfortunately, is a visible token of love. The perfunctory pattern of sending small checks to charities has evolved into a rote exercise with little thought or meaning for either the deceased or their family. How sad!

But what if we could change the pattern? What if we could draw on people’s impulsive desire to turn to flowers in times of mourning and use this same need to express their love with flowers when the death of a loved one occurs?

Suppose, for example, a new tradition called for mourners to arrive at funeral services with a single flower, or a small cluster of flowers?
No, it likely wouldn’t equate to a lot of money for florists. But wouldn’t it go a long way to re-establish flowers to their rightful and natural place as the primary vehicle for expressions of love at times of grief?

There was an era when industry ads said, “Say it with flowers.” It worked magnificently because the buying public knew, at its core, it spoke the truth. Funeral services without flowers create another, rather sad and distressing message. It reads “In lieu of love.”

J. Sten Crissey, AAF, is a second-general retail florist from Seattle who sold his family’s business and retired in 2006. He is a former Society of American Florists president and member of the Floriculture Hall of Fame. Contact him at [email protected]

Reprinted with permission from Floral Management, June 2019