Questions From Readers
● In view of the fact that pagans made floral offerings to the dead, is it proper for Christians to send flowers to a funeral or to lay flowers on a grave?—G. T., U.S.A.
It is true that ancient pagans made floral offerings to the dead. The publication How Did It Begin?, by R. Brasch, states: “To send a wreath to a funeral and to lay it on the coffin or the grave is a relic of ancient superstition and idol worship.”
What was the purpose of their so doing? The author of the same publication adds: “The floral wreath is a survival of the belief that it was necessary to provide comforts for the departed. The flowers were also regarded as, literally, a floral offering, a sacrifice to the dead. They were meant to keep them happy, lest, being dissatisfied, they might haunt the mourners.” So the pagans, in their mistaken belief that the deceased had an immortal soul, honored these dead with floral offerings.
However, did the pagans originate flowers? Should we conclude that using flowers on such occasions is wrong just because the pagans used them to sacrifice to their dead? It is interesting to note that author Brasch also states: “None of these various early roots are remembered. There is no magic left in the wreath, and to ‘say it with flowers’ has become an established custom in the Western world.”
Generally, in the Western world, flowers are not given to placate the dead. Usually they are sent as a gesture of kindness to the family of the deceased. And flowers, created by Jehovah for man’s pleasure, do have a brightening effect.
If a person thinks he is honoring the dead when he sends flowers, then he is doing what the pagans did. Such a motive would be wrong from the Christian viewpoint. But if he sends flowers to comfort the survivors, to make the sad occasion a bit more pleasant, then it is certainly not objectionable.
It should be said, however, that, while it is customary to send flowers as a gesture of respect to the family, certainly one is not obligated to do so. Indeed, other things can be done for the family of the deceased that may be even more meaningful. Instead of sending flowers, one may choose to assist the family by cooking a meal, since the family in their grief may be burdened with many other details. Or one may lovingly offer to help take care of young children until the funeral is over. After the funeral, those close to the deceased, such as a widow, will be lonely. A kind gesture would be to invite such ones for a meal, or for an outing. They will be made to see that they are wanted, that they have friends who want to share their activities. As James 1:27 says: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.”
So while flowers sent with the right motive, without the pagan belief as a background, are not objectionable, it can be seen that other more helpful things can be done. And these may be more appreciated than a mere sending of flowers, with no personal assistance offered.
Often flowers sent to the funeral are later deposited upon the grave. But here, some may choose to do something else with these flowers. They may choose to give them to others, take them to those who rarely get flowers, to sick persons or to the elderly. A person may feel that the living will appreciate the flowers, but that they serve little purpose at the gravesite, since the deceased cannot appreciate them.—Eccl. 9:5.
Of course, others may choose to lay flowers on a grave simply to beautify the site, and not to give honor to the dead. This too is a matter for personal decision.
Hence, when one has the proper motive and understanding of what happens to the dead, what he does in connection with flowers is a matter of personal choice. But it can be seen that there are other things even more meaningful that can be done for the family of one who has died, and in regard to the use of flowers.