By Kristeen A. Bruun
I attend a lot of funerals. Partly, as I age, I of course know more people who die. But also, I grew up in a small town at a time when everyone sent casseroles and went to funerals, and I’ve never given up the practice.
I was surprised when a friend once gave as his reason for not attending a funeral, “I just don’t like funerals.” Well, who does? I thought. But the woman who had died was the mother of a friend, so I wanted to stand by his side. Sometimes that’s all you can do – just show up. “Weep with those who weep,” St. Paul says (Romans 12:15b). Sometimes the funerals do make me weep, as I recall the many friends and family that I have sent on ahead.
The flowers that accompany funerals make me think of the garden out of which we were formed (Genesis 2:8-9). After the Lord God formed human beings of dust from the ground, God then planted a garden in Eden. So we surround our beloved dead with the symbols of life that recall our origins. It doesn’t matter whether or not the people who participate in this horticultural ritual can articulate the underlying reason for it – the flowers speak for themselves.
My co-worker Dana’s brother just died of Covid a couple of weeks ago. Phillip was younger than Dana by five years. During the time between his death and the funeral, I got to listen as Dana told the stories of their growing up together; some of them funny, and some of them touching. “I helped raise him,” Dana said over and over.
Covid delayed the funeral for a bit. Did she need food? No, they had everything they needed. How about flowers? Not really – there would be plenty. But what Dana really wanted was ivy. She had ivy from her mother’s grave, and ivy from her father’s grave, and she had managed to keep the plants growing for ten or twelve years. Phillip was going to be cremated, so he would not have a grave, but Dana still wanted ivy.
“If you want ivy, you should have ivy,” I told her. Then I started looking for ivy…
I went first to my usual online floral source. No ivy. It possibly would have helped if I had known a little more about what I was looking for, but all I know about ivy is: the roots go in the ground, the green stuff should be on top, and DON’T OVERWATER IT. I went on to check out a couple of local flower vendors. I guess ivy is not very popular. No ivy.
The day of the funeral came and went. I sat and prayed, wept with the other mourners, and went away tired and somewhat frustrated.
Coming into church the next day for Sunday worship, I saw a fellow congregant whom I knew ran a garden center in a local small town. I hadn’t thought of Michele before because her center was forty miles away. As soon as I said ivy Michele began to tell me all the different kinds and varieties and subspecies she stocks. “Stop,” I told her. “Just pick out something that won’t die.”
So she did; and she worked out a way to have it delivered through a mutual friend. When I came into work on Tuesday morning I was met by a lush green plant sitting in my chair with leaves cascading over the sides of the pot. I called Dana back to my office and watched her smile through her tears. “It’s perfect,” she said. “Just what I was hoping for.”
Life began in a garden. According to the book of Revelation, it will end there as well. On either side of the river of the water of life grows the Tree of Life, and “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).
Perfect healing awaits the End of Days, but the earthly gifts of God can soothe our souls already now. Like ivy, lush and green; and a reminder of God’s garden.
Thank you for these words. The second anniversary of my daughter’s death is coming up and I was thinking about how I’m going to deal with the day. Not ivy but maybe a tree.