Reflection: Funerals—Nothing Against Flowers, But...
by Father Don Thomas
This particular reflection, I must say at the outset, is one with which everyone who reads it can readily disagree or totally ignore. I would have no problem with that reaction. On the other hand, as a priest for almost fifty years, I would like to express some ideas about funerals that I personally feel are worthy of consideration. As I proceed to express my personal opinions, let it be understood that I would definitely allow exceptions, depending upon circumstances, such as one's faith, one's social or financial status or other factors.
When our relatives or friends die, there are multiple ways in which we can express our love and sympathy. We can visit the family, the funeral home, attend the burial service in or out of church, we can send flowers, have Masses said for the soul, baby-sit for children or grandchildren, bring food to the home, serve as pallbearers, lend our automobile to the family, and on and on. Yes, there are countless ways of trying to help out and express our sympathy.
Needless to say, everyone is not going to read this reflection, so millions have no need to worry about my personal preferences. It is so important for me to state right now that I love flowers. I really do.
I have no desire to hurt the feelings or the financial savings of florists anywhere in the country or in the world. I do want to say, however, that flowers would not be my preferential way of expressing sympathy or love on the occasion of a death. Please keep in mind what I stated above about exceptions. I am also fully aware of how many florists are supportive of the church, with ads in the bulletin, with donations of flowers at Christmas, Easter and other occasions.
In spite of what I am about to share in these following lines, I am thoroughly convinced that there will always be beautiful flowers at just about every funeral. No doubt about it. That is good, because it is a serious and thoughtful decision that someone made to send those flowers as a way of expressing sympathy and support. While it is good, I would like to suggest something better, specifically for Catholics, and that is to have a Mass or several Masses offered up for the soul of the deceased. One who is unfamiliar with having Masses said might snap back at me and says something like "oh, so that you get the offering, Father"? And to that I simply reply that one does not have to deal with my parish, or me but rather go to any priest or parish of your choice. From a spiritual point of view, that would be my preference. From a practical point of view, the expense is most noteworthy, as a Mass Offering may be five or ten dollars as opposed to fifty or seventy five dollars for flowers.
Think about it, and think also of the spiritual benefit of the soul for whom the Mass is offered. Think also of how long flowers last or how in many instances they are disposed of immediately after a funeral service. In trying to be practical in my approach, I also want to be honest in saying that many times after a funeral the flowers are charitably taken to churches, hospitals, nursing homes and even to the family's home. Needless to say, some flowers are placed lovingly on the grave site. On the other hand I have been involved in hundreds of funerals and it is not uncommon to see the flowers disposed of at a dumpsite. They usually do not last long and I think we all understand that.
Now, let us consider the principal point that I really want to express. Again, I allow for a difference of opinion, but I am definitely convinced that one of the most practical ways of helping many families is simply to send a sympathy card or note, and in that card enclose five, ten, twenty-five dollars or whatever amount you wish—just do that instead of the flowers. You know why? Because in our society today medical expenses are so incredibly unmanageable, and many families have no insurance, and they have incurred hundreds or thousands of dollars of expenses for medicine, for gas expenses running back and forth to hospitals or medical centers, food for the children, clothes for the family members, telephone expenses, doctor bills, and other needs. That is why! I feel that by following up on this last suggestion, the little donations to the family will add up and provide them with some means to face the future with hope and courage because of the generosity of so many relatives or friends.
Once again, if you will allow me to be practical, I do believe that a small donation in a card would end up saving one some money when you think about the cost of flowers. Love of God and love of neighbor make up the greatest of all the commandments and may this reflection help us to do some soul-searching about the most practical and effective steps we can take to comfort the sorrowful. No pressure intended, as the choice is up to you. Of one thing you can be sure. In spite of this reflection, there will always be flowers available that the grieving family will deeply and rightfully appreciate.
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