Flowers are one of the most straightforward ways of expressing appreciation, love, sorrow and grief. However, nowadays, for the latter occasion, many bereaved families, for one reason or another, request donations to a charity instead of flowers.
Still, lately, I've found myself calling up a florist for such a sad time. In a single day recently, I was commemorating one friend's life at lunch with his wife and mourning with another on the loss of his lovely wife, at dinner: both gone prematurely.
When I got home that night, I checked in via email with a close acquaintance whose sister died suddenly a few weeks ago. Let's face it; words can be sparse at times such as these. Give me flowers.
Even so, neither flowers nor words get the point across to the deceased. Whatever we believe, no one knows for sure what really happens after death. But death itself, we know, is definite.
With this reality, I can't help thinking of a phrase that I've heard many older relatives and extended family members often say: 'Give me my flowers while I'm alive'.
Now that is something to think about. In retrospect, I trust that flowers are probably meant symbolically here, though it is traditional in many cultures -- certainly mine -- to send flowers as an expression of sympathy. Also, in African-American tradition, it's good practice, if you will, to say kind words at a funeral service.
Thus, presumably giving flowers in life has more to do with showing appreciation while a person is able to receive it, whether in words or in deeds ... or in flowers. Of course, condolences are in order after death, but showering someone posthumously with accolades and compliments sometimes come a day late and a dollar short.
A few weeks ago, a long-standing friend made a point on Facebook about the importance of forgiveness -- a flower of sorts -- after suddenly losing an old friend of hers. In essence, she explained that life is too fragile to gamble on the matter.
And in another case, two good friends, both acquaintances of mine, never got the chance to resolve their differences before death intervened. Not to say that every broken relationship will be reconciled, some won't, but the point here is that the opportunity to communicate ceases when life ends.
It's depressing really, but there is a sliver lining in this massively dark cloud: forgiveness is not only a way to give flowers in life, but it might also be a way to extend life. Last winter, Professor Loren Toussaint of Luther College, Iowa, released research, which showed that those who forgive unconditionally tend to live longer.
The key word here is 'unconditionally'. Though most of us are taught as children to forgive and forget, for a happier, healthier experience, somewhere along the way, we slap conditions on forgiveness.
How many times have you said, or heard someone say, 'I've forgiven him (or her) for that matter, but ...'
You can stop counting now. The point is that hanging on to past hurts does the mind and the body far more harm than it does good, in both the short and long term. Enough said, right?
Apparently not! According to experts, the act of forgiveness is not that simple and easy. It's not something that happens miraculously or subconsciously; it happens decidedly and willingly ... and repeatedly, I might add.
On the flipside, when you are the one who has committed the wrong, apologising is equally hard, if not harder. 'Sorry' is said to be one of the hardest words to express the world over. In 2013, Wall-to-Wall Television made a programme for the BBC, called The Gift, about regret and gratitude, for which they commissioned a study. They revealed that more than sixty-five per cent of those surveyed found it difficult to say sorry, or claimed they had somehow missed the opportunity to do so.
According to an Australian study that same year, there is a good reason for harbouring apologies: doing so gives us a power surge, a confidence booster. People who hold on to anger feel more powerful. No wonder it is so hard to let go of it. But if you ask me, looking back to the benefits of forgiveness, it has to be better in the long term to feel healthier rather than more powerful.
Anyhow, there are other ways, besides forgiving and apologising, to give flowers in life, such as valuing friends and relatives in not only what we say, but also in what we do. Saying 'thank you', for instance, is another tongue-twister. However, anyone who has ever received thanks knows how gratifying it is to feel appreciated. And what about Stevie Wonder's 'These three Words', particularly outside of romantic love?
Saying 'I love you' ought not to be a problem, right? But if you didn't grow up in a situation where using the three words was the norm, it will likely stay on the tip of your tongue perhaps a bit too long. Thus, taking a tip from the elders, let it roll off while there is still time.
Oh, and about those flowers ... I love tall, luxurious hydrangeas, and ever so delicate calla lilies. Give me mine anytime.