When you visit a grave, it’s standard etiquette to leave flowers. If you’ve ever wandered through a cemetery, odds are you’ve seen a variety of flowers, bouquets, wreaths, and other floral symbols. With so many types of funeral flowers, why is this the norm?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Do People Place Flowers on Caskets at Funerals?
- Why Do People Leave Flowers at Graves?
- Flower Etiquette After Death
There are so many rituals and etiquette points around death, but why exactly do we do the things we do? Why do we leave flowers and not food, candles, or photos? What symbolism lies in this small act of kindness for someone who is no longer living?
Flowers aren’t only limited to North American death rituals. These are a common part of mourning around the globe, and they’re used by different cultures in all parts of the world. In this guide, we’ll explore why flowers are placed on caskets and gravesites. How do flowers help us celebrate a life that’s been lost?
Why Do People Place Flowers on Caskets at Funerals?
One of the most common places to spot flowers is at a funeral. The funeral service is an opportunity to remember memories, come together in mourning, and celebrate a life well-lived. With so much emphasis on legacy and memories, why are flowers a big part of this service?
An offer of condolence
The most common reason people place flowers on caskets at funerals is as a form of condolence. After losing a loved one, it’s hard to put these feelings into words. Even if you’re not close to the deceased, it’s important to show support to the bereaved family in any way you can.
Flowers step in when words fail. They’re beautiful, but most importantly, they’re something physical. They’re a physical gesture and sign of your togetherness and support. They’re a way to say "I’m sorry for your loss" without having to find the words yourself.
Over time, it’s become the norm to bring flowers to the funeral. Most people don’t want to arrive as guests empty-handed. It’s become proper to send flowers either to the home or the funeral service before the event.
This way, the room is able to be arranged with an array of blooming flowers. They adorn the casket and the venue space itself. They’re a physical reminder that this person is loved and missed. Though they might be gone, the flowers represent all of the beautiful parts of life that are still living.
The language of flowers
Flowers themselves have come to have their own language. In the Victorian era, people used flowers to communicate, usually in secret. Because it wasn’t deemed "proper" to speak openly about one’s feelings, they did so with flowers.
Different flowers came to mean different things. For example, roses are a symbol of eternal love. Tulips are a sign of friendship and loyalty. This list goes on and on. As such, people use flowers to say something about the deceased, their feelings, or the individual’s legacy.
They might give lilies for the funeral to show just how innocent and pure the deceased person was. They could give roses for a deceased love or tulips for a close friend. This continued language of flowers helps us say more than we can with words.
Symbol of life
People leave flowers on the casket as a symbol of life. Though the individual might no longer be around, the memory and legacy live on. Flowers are a symbol of something thriving and alive. They grow and continue to bloom even in the harshest of weather. They’re a gorgeous symbol of strength and rebirth.
Flowers also show us the cycle of life. They die and decompose just like humans, but they also contribute to future life as they do so. When we include flowers in the funeral service, we hold the reminder that life continues onward close to our hearts.
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Why Do People Leave Flowers at Graves?
Not only do people leave flowers on caskets and at funeral services, but they also leave them at the gravesite. If you’re wondering what to leave at a grave, you’re not only limited to flowers.
Many leave candles, flags, letters, and so on. However, it’s hard to deny that flowers are the most common choice around the world. Why do people leave flowers at graves?
Leaving flowers at the grave is a form of ongoing memorialization. It’s a way to consciously remember the deceased and leave something in their honor. Though most graves also have some kind of marker, like a headstone or gravestone, flowers add a bit of life to an otherwise cold monument.
When you bring flowers to the grave, you’re practicing ongoing memorialization. Even if there’s no occasion, you can partake in the ritual of bringing flowers. Better yet, this is a powerful way to honor the anniversary of someone’s death, a birthday, or a special holiday.
Cleaning the grave
Cleaning the grave of a loved one is one of the most profound forms of remembrance. In many parts of the world, there are specific holidays around cleaning loved one’s graves. Regularly doing this is a sign of respect, and it brings good luck to ensure the grave is in good condition.
In North America, most graves are maintained by the cemetery grounds crew. They keep the lawn healthy and green, and they keep the graves from getting damaged. Nonetheless, many families enjoy the process of visiting the grave in person to clean the headstone, remove any brush, and add fresh flowers.
Custom and tradition
Last but not least, we leave flowers simply because it’s custom. It’s what humans have done for thousands of years, and it’s what we’ll continue doing while it’s still practical.
Because leaving flowers at the grave is such a longstanding tradition, it continues to be done as part of the funeral and grave etiquette. Though these “rules” are always progressing and evolving, this is a touching tradition that many people want to keep alive.
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Flower Etiquette After Death
Before leaving flowers at a grave or on a casket, it’s important to understand the proper etiquette. Most importantly, recognize that flowers aren’t always appropriate.
There are cultural and practical reasons when this might not be a good fit. For example, flowers are not typically welcome at Jewish funerals or burials. In addition, the family might specifically request something in lieu of flowers.
Always follow grave flowers etiquette with these tips:
- Cemetery rules: The most important thing to consider is whether the cemetery has rules. They might request you to use specific types of flowers or that you limit your flowers to special occasions.
- Clean up: The cemetery staff often does the cleaning, but it’s a good practice to always clean old flowers and replenish them regularly.
- Meaning of flowers: While you can use any flowers you wish, consider the meaning behind the blooms you choose.
- Weather: If there is likely to be harsh weather, use cemetery flower holders to ensure they don’t blow away.
Flowers should be a beautiful tribute, not a burden. Always be practical about the flowers you choose and whether this is the best way to honor your loved one’s memory. For many, it’s a way to experience peace and comfort after a passing.
Alternatives to Funeral Flowers for Cremation
You don't always have the opportunity to place flowers on a person's casket or gravesite. If your loved one was cremated, you might have to go a different route to pay your respects. Here are some ideas for incorporating the tradition of leaving flowers for the departed if your loved one was cremated:
- Flower seed paper. If you want to incorporate flowers into an ash-scattering ceremony, you can use flower seed paper. This is a sheet of biodegradable paper that has seeds embedded in it, and it creates beautiful blooms in honor of your loved one.
- Floral urns. Another option is designing or buying an urn that incorporates floral themes. If there's a specific flower your loved one liked, you can even create a one-of-a-kind, 3D-printed urn with Foreverence. Design an urn in the shape of a floral bouquet, a natural bloom, or just add images of flowers to the surface of the urn.
- Biodegradable plant urns. An option that incorporates flowers with the simplicity of an urn is a biodegradable plant urn. You place your loved one's ashes inside the urn, then bury it. As the urn decomposes, it can plant a beautiful plant, tree, or bed of flowers.
- Memorial garden. Even if you've already scattered the ashes or placed them in an urn, you can always plant a memorial garden in the person's honor. This might be as simple as a few hardy sunflowers, or as elaborate as a floral garden with a memorial bench.
- Transform the ashes. Finally, if you have the person's cremains, you have the option of turning those ashes into something natural and beautiful. For example, you could have them solidified to create cremation stones, which you can place in a floral garden or keep at home.
The Role of Flowers and Remembrance
Flowers are more than just a gorgeous symbol of life. They’re also one of the ways to honor the ones we love even after death. Losing someone important is never easy. It’s also not easy to sum up our sympathy in words. Flowers help us express feelings that seem too complex to communicate any other way.
Whether you leave flowers on the grave, on the casket, or digitally, this is a wonderful way to keep someone’s legacy alive and well. Flowers and the process of remembrance is a healthy, effective way to grieve a loss. How do you honor someone’s memory?