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Memorial flowers: History, tradition and significance

When a loved one passes away, friends and family gather together to mourn the loss and remember with fondness and celebrate the life of the deceased. Tradition plays a big role in memorials – customs have developed over thousands of years based on beliefs and cultural practices. Flowers have played a role in memorial ceremonies since the dawn of humanity, and they continue to be a calming, uplifting presence in a time of sadness and despair. Learn more about the long tradition of incorporating flowers into memorial services and how they can make a lasting impression.

The history of memorial flowers
Memorial rites have incorporated flowers since before modern humans came into existence. Archaeologists have discovered traces of flower pollen covering skeletons that date back to at least 300,000 years ago, including at the Shanidar cave of Iraq and the Pontnewydd Cave of Wales, leading scientists to believe Neanderthals buried their dead with flowers. As such, it is widely considered humanity's first form of memorializing, and it even made the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest form of religious activity in the world's known history.

"Neanderthals from 300,000 years ago buried their dead with flowers."

Floral has also seeped into other aspects of memorial rites. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, the popular Protestant hymn "In the Garden" became one of the most commonly sung songs at American services. It spurred a whole movement in the U.S. that involved immersing Protestant services in a garden and had the body reposed among the greenery. Eventually, funeral homes created indoor gardens for these themed ceremonies, providing waterfalls and even live birds flying about among the flowers.

Not much later, the role of flower lady became an important part of memorial ceremonies in the U.S., particularly in the Midwest. The flower lady was the female counterpart to the male pallbearer, except she carried the flowers the the funeral home to the flower vehicle and helped set up the floral displays at the burial site. It was an honor to be chosen for this task, and the role was generally filled by very close friends or family members. Today, the job of flower lady is rarely a part of the service, as services are generally organized by professionals rather than community and family members.

The symbolism of flowers
Before delving into the subject of symbolism, it's important to note that floral was not always used in a figurative manner. Fragrant blooms have also been used prior to the advent of embalming to maintain a pleasant aroma around the deceased during the ceremony. But looking beyond this technical use, flowers have a much higher function in various cultures, as they not only represent the fragility of life but also allow people to display their emotions in a visual, tangible way when grief may get in the way of verbal expression. Flowers serve as a way to convey love, sympathy and respect.

Sending flowers serves as a way to extend sympathy to the family of the deceased and to convey love, sympathy and respect for the dead.Sending flowers serves as a way to extend sympathy to the family of the deceased and to convey love, sympathy and respect for the dead.

Providing comfort in a time of mourning
Much like a tender hug, sending a bouquet of flowers to the memorial or family of the deceased can serve as a gesture of sympathy and even empathy – a symbol that says the giver shares the burden of grief. They also have a strong aesthetic effect, creating a delicate and beautiful atmosphere out of an environment where some may feel suffocated by the ugliness and permanence of death.

A lasting impression
Perhaps an even more significant role that flowers play in memorial services is to provide a sense of dignity. When guests leave the service, they take with them an impression of the ceremony – an image of the service that is preserved in their minds and serves as a final memory of the life of the deceased. Flowers make that image more comforting and pleasant so that, rather than looking back at a depressing occasion, people can remember how loved and respected the deceased was.

The role of flowers in the modern day
Along with extending our feelings of sympathy, tradition is an explanation for why people to this day continue to send flowers when someone has passed away. Most people couldn't imagine a memorial service with no flowers – the room would seem empty, desolate and bleak. And some would think it downright disrespectful to to the family of the deceased not to send an arrangement to a memorial.

"White roses reflect respect and reverence, which is why they are commonly displayed at memorials."

Choosing the right flowers
Selecting the right blooms and colors that properly express your feelings is important when sending flowers to a memorial ceremony. While red roses generally convey passion and amorous love, white roses reflect respect and reverence, which is why they are commonly displayed at these ceremonies.

As for carnations, white generally evokes purity and innocence. Meanwhile, pink carnations are often sent to the services of mothers and grandmothers, as they symbolize motherly love. Green chrysanthemums are also well received at memorial ceremonies, expressing sadness and grief but still providing a hint of vibrancy to elevate the environment. Lilies, tulips, daffodils, gladiolas and magnolias are also commonly used for these arrangements.

After the memorial
Flowers continue to be used to memorialize the deceased well after they have been buried. There are many different options when it comes to memorial arrangements, such as floral crosses, vases, wreaths and headstone displays. Teters Floral Products offers these elegant arrangements in a wide variety of colors and styles so that you can choose one that properly represents your feelings toward the deceased. Additionally, artificial flowers are a beneficial alternative to fresh flowers, as they last longer and are resistant to the elements, so they won't wilt or weep in the heat or rain.