Today, I received an exquisite bouquet of flowers, condolences from a non-Jewish business acquaintance. It’s the third arrangement of flowers I received this week, and, while I truly love flowers, I find myself conflicted because of the Jewish traditions of not sending flowers to a Jewish house in mourning nor planting flowers on Jewish graves. I am certainly going to thank these people for their generosity and kindness, but I’d like to educate my blogosphere why “Jews don’t do flowers” for the bereaved. Feel free to stop reading if you don’t want to hear the sermon.
Are you still with me? Good.
It’s not that flowers are prohibited in Jewish mourning tradition;flowers are inappropriate. The first period of a Jewish family’s mourning begins immediately following the funeral. Barring Sabbath or other Jewish holiday proscriptions, the family will “sit shiva,” stay home and receive guests to help the mourners pray and reflect upon their loss, for seven days. This is a deep mourning period during which the celebration of life and beautification of self are distractions from the religious healing process. Having gone through this process when my father died almost 8 years ago, I find there is validity to and healing in the religious rituals of mourning.
What is a well-wisher to do? Donations to help the family or that provide lasting help to the community are welcomed and appropriate. What do you donate? You can bring food or have food delivered to the mourners; that’s a huge help because even people who like to cook, like me, just don’t want to deal with groceries and cooking during the early stages of grief. Plus, we Jews are always all about the food. Fruit baskets, meat platters, trays of sandwiches are all appropriate, too. Donations of money to a designated charity or trust are an enduring way to honor the decedent’s memory and a good way to “pay it forward”.
Why Jews don’t plant flowers on Jewish graves is subject to interpretation. I, for one, have always thought that we don’t take the life of something to honor the dead; it feels sacrilegious. Plus, flowers wither and die, and watching this process is another painful reminder of the life that was lost. Instead, a Jew places a modest stone on a Jewish grave to show that the impact the decedent had on her is eternal. A soul, like a stone, lasts forever.
Finally, you really don’t have to give or donate anything. From personal experience, those handwritten notes containing fond memories, funny stories, or sincere condolences are tangible threads of support. And, right now, we need all the support we can get.