The flowers were attracting flies.
I wish I could give a great, heartfelt beginning to this story. I wish I had some spiritual nudge, some inclination that someone needed these flowers in that very moment.
But where this story starts is… I had a lot of really beautiful flowers in my house, and they were attracting flies.
I guess the story actually starts before that. The story starts in a conference room at Crown Hill Cemetery. It starts with me sitting in a desk chair at a big wooden conference table. It starts with me taking mouse sized bites out of a dry Asiago bagel. It starts with a portrait of a some important person on the wall, and a man saying that this guy and both of his wives are buried in the very cemetery beyond the building, and me wondering for way too long if both of the wives died before the man, and if he made them lay next to each other for a period of time while they awaited for their shared husband to die and join them. Because that’s messed up, and so I, with no filter at the time, interrupted everything to announce that I found that to be very messed up. And everyone in the room nodded in agreement with me.
Because this story starts at a time when everyone always seemed to nod in agreement with me. Because what else do you do when in the presence of a 25-year-old widow three days after she achieved this horrible title?
This story starts here- with the conference room, the desk chairs, the bagel, the dead man in the portrait, his two wives, and a 25-year old widow expected to plan a memorial that she never had any interest in ever attending.
There are a lot of decisions to make when someone dies… honestly, way more than there should be. Like… do you scatter the ashes, or do you send them to the moon… the freaken moon… yes, that was a true option with a truly baffling price tag that some people have truly paid.
For the most part we made the decisions, and we made them fast, and we made them efficient, just as the man we were planning the day for would have wanted.
But then we got to the flowers, and they were all wrong. They offered us arrangements of delicate white roses. They offered flaky baby’s breath. They offered sympathy lilies arranged in the shape of a cross.
These flowers were not my husband. The did not, would not, accurately represent the man he was.
You see, my husband actually liked flowers. In his life, he had preferences, and I could only assume that in his death, he had the same. He had just sat there two months before with our friend Gabriella as she taught us how to arrange flowers, and he knew what he liked. He liked the goofy billy-balls, the green and fragrant eucalyptus, the glossy look of the wax flowers.
He liked the strange and powerful king protea.
And pardon my language, but in the art of true transparency, in that moment, at that conference table, all I could think was, “My husband is not a delicate white rose…. He is a mother f*cking king protea.” (I know Carol, ‘how could I rephrase that?’ but you were there too, and you know that I’m right.)
And so I called Gabriella, and I told her just that, and she jumped into action. She went to her flower dealer (yes, that’s a thing) and she got the flowers, the right flowers, and she arranged them all into ten mason jars, the same jars left over from our wedding just two years before. And they were perfect. And they were him. And they sat on each table of that funeral home, and they told everyone that this wasn’t just any other memorial, because Andrew was not just any other person.
But then the funeral was over, and the flowers were moved into my house, and they started to attract flies. And they started to attract emotion. And they started to remind me of the man that they represented, and the ugly, absent, silence that he left me with in the house.
So, I did the only thing I knew to do with a bunch of flowers that overwhelmed my home with the ache of my loss and winged insects—I gave them away.
It was selfish, really. I wanted them gone. I wanted them gone almost as much as I wanted him back. One thing was possible, one thing wasn’t. So, my thought was, I would at least make sure people knew him, at least I would make sure they knew these weren’t just flowers. They would know that they were his flowers, and if nothing else, at least they would know they were looking at flowers arranged in the memory of Hans, and in this, they would at least know his endearing nickname, and maybe, just maybe, these people might think of him when they looked at the flowers, and maybe, just maybe, that would keep him here, at least just a little.
So I wrote a sign that said, “Free flowers (Keep the jar too). Please just make someone smile today in honor of my Hans. God bless.”
And I set it up on a little table in front of my house, and I placed every single remaining bouquet on that table. And then I left for a few hours, and by the time that I got home, every single jar was gone.
Mission accomplished. Mission forgotten.
It was about two weeks later that I found the box on my front porch. On it, a tag that read, “To the giver of free flowers.”
Someone picked up a bouquet, one of the bouquets that I couldn’t stand to look at any more, and she happened to pick it up in a particularly hard chapter of her own life.
And somehow, these flowers brought her comfort.
Somehow, God used my pain to bring comfort, and this comfort led this person to my story, and my loss, and the sweet life that was my husband, and this ultimately led her to repay the favor. She took the joy that I somehow gave out of my pain, and she repurposed joy right back to me in a form that I could receive, a form of a sweet little box, with sweet little treats, and a kind note that told how this whole story came back around.
And I simply can’t think of a more intentional way to love your neighbor.
Ever since, I’ve thought a lot about flowers. I’ve thought a lot about that season, and this season, and how often God has used these blooms to point me back to Him, to remind me that in this chapter that I swore I’d never survive, I still find beauty. He is good, and when He has a hand in things, even the seemingly most awful of things, there is beauty.
Flowers now remind me that He can repurpose my pain into beauty. And this beauty can help to heal someone else, and then someone else’s pain is repurposed to help heal me, and through it all, He uses us, His army, His believers, to mend each other, and in faith, we carry each other to that finish line.
We carry each other through this life, and back to Him– and He is the ultimate story of pain to beauty. He is the place where pain is conquered once and for all.
I’ve since taken the little tag from that sweet gift, and tied it to one of Han’s beloved Billy Balls, and I keep them both at my desk. I keep them as a reminder of who I want to be, of how I want to live this life, and what I want to come out of my pain.
Today, I challenge you to think of the person you miss the most. Think of their life, their light, their joy, their quirks. Think of everything you love and miss about them. And from that place… that aching and beautiful place of love and loss combined—give. Even if it’s nothing, even if it’s just laying your pain down on a plastic table in your front yard, do it. Be vulnerable. Be authentic. Be in pain. And be willing to give it.
Give and watch how God repurposes.
Because even in our greatest grief, we can offer comfort.
Even in our greatest pain, we can offer joy.
Even when our hearts are shattered, we can show love.
Even in hardest hours, we can be the giver of free flowers.