dilemmas

This week: Is it all right to send flowers to a funeral even though the family say no?

Cherry can't attend the funeral of her friend because of a long-standing family holiday. The family have requested 'No flowers' and a contribution to a charity instead. Cherry not only doesn't like this charity, but very much wants to send flowers - should she?

What is a funeral for? Is it to celebrate a person's life or to mourn their passing? Is it a ceremony put on for the benefit of the deceased, or for the close family, or for everyone?

It may seem odd to suggest that it's for the benefit of the dead person, but often the question on the family's lips, as they furrow their brows over whether to choose "Crimond" or "Jerusalem" for the hymn, is: "What would he have liked?" And yet, when the dead person has had too much power over the style and content of their own funeral in advance, while it may have given them some solace and amusement when they were alive, and perhaps helped them to come to terms with their own death, their ruthlessly efficient organisation may leave a sting in the tail when they finally kick the bucket. That's the time the family want to have their say over how things should go; planning a funeral gives the bereaved much-needed power over their lives, and, most important, something to do in the aftermath of death.

But no one should really have too much power over a funeral. The person whose funeral it is might decide in advance whether he wants to be cremated or buried, and suggest a single piece of music, perhaps.

The family will arrange the order of service. But to dictate to other people how they should express their feelings seems to me to be little short of tyranny. A funeral is for everyone who misses the dead person and they all should be allowed to give their gifts as they wish, and hang the wishes of the dead person or their close relations. Telling people what gifts to give is, in a way, diminishing the grief of the dead person's close friends - it's saying that we, the family, are most important, and your relationship with him means so little that we are not only going to tell you which hymns to sing and what prayers to pray, but also organise what tokens of love and respect you offer.

I think "No flowers" is a piece of shocking bad manners, arrogance, if not cruelty to those who mourn. The family would never dream of dictating what people gave them for Christmas, so why should they dictate what people give a third - dead - party, as a send-off to the next world?

This is why I feel as angry as Cherry over her friend's family's request. However, this is not the moment to stamp her feet and tell them how badly treated she feels. She could do something private, and, as many readers suggested, invest in planting a little tree somewhere. But planting a tree is so wretchedly sensible, and the feelings of bereavement are not sensible and there is something passionate about flowers, a kind of sacrifice, and to see a coffin so covered with flowers there is not a piece of wood to be seen is one of the most moving and splendid moments of a funeral.

So my advice to Cherry would be to send a bunch of flowers direct to the family home. It should be accompanied by a note explaining her feelings as gently and kindly as possible, perhaps saying that, as she can't be there, she'd like the flowers to represent her - but she could add that if they really don't want a single bloom around at the funeral (hard, punishing old things that they are) they are welcome to pop the bunch into a vase and enjoy it themselves. Bit of arm-twist there, but what the helln

What readers say

Don't waste your money

Last year my father died of cancer. We placed an obituary in the local paper and expressed a wish for "family flowers only". At the funeral a few people sent flowers but the majority made a donation.

The money donated came to in excess of pounds 450 which we divided three ways, going to two cancer charities and the local church.

As a family we felt some comfort knowing that we had made small but valuable and long-lasting contributions.

If pounds 450 had been spent on flowers they would have been left outside the crematorium and thrown away the following day. What a waste!

Jane Mottershead, Cheshire

A wreath no - a single stem yes

What about sending one flower, say a beautiful rose? "No flowers" is plural. One rose is not a wreath or spray. I agree, a flower says it all.

Sister Millicent Olga, Oxfordshire

Make your offering in the years to come

No, if the family want no flowers you should abide by their wishes.

In the future, why not take flowers to your friend's grave to show she is not forgotten? After all, there are few more pointless and depressing sights than rotting wreaths on a grave - far more hopeful are the bunches of fresh flowers placed in the months and years to come.

Sylvia Wood, Manchester

Don't inflict your 'tribute' on others

Tell Cherry to think for two minutes. The family of her friend have presumably arranged a funeral with which they feel comfortable and deem suitable. Is she really right to set off at a tangent?

I recently lost my partner and found arranging the funeral a phenomenal challenge at a time when I was full of uncertainty, doubt, apathy and low self-confidence. I was, however, certain of several aspects and touches that I, and possibly I alone, knew to be appropriate and was both comforted and grateful for the subsequent confirmation that I had got it all "just right".

I, too, opted for the "No flowers please" option and was deflated, not touched or moved, by the one floral "tribute" that was so sadly and feebly displayed after the cremation ceremony.

This is no time for Cherry to inflict her style, taste or sense of what is right. If flowers do say it all for her, I suggest she buys them and keeps them at home to help in her mourning.

Martin, Surrey

Soul food

Yes, send flowers - it is your friend's funeral not the family's funeral.

There is an old belief that the dead "take" energy from fresh-cut flowers and candles to enable them to move their etheric body into its next home. If there are no flowers or candles the dead person will use the energy of the people near the body.

Incidentally, this was one of the reasons people wore black after a death - to "protect" their body energy.

J Alexander, London E1

Parting gift

I ran a flower shop with my husband for five years. I helped many bereaved people choose their flowers and it was clear to me that they took great comfort in the whole process. For many of them it was an expression of care, a final gift.

The time and money involved in funeral flowers is well worth it. Cherry should send the flowers, particularly if she will be there to see them. It will be an important part of her grieving process.

Belinda Murray, London SW2

Next week: Getting burgled has made me a basket case

Dear Virginia

Ten days ago I was burgled - I came back from shopping to find the door open and our video taken. We've got the locks changed and I now put the door on a chain when I'm in, and we've bought a new video and will get the money from the insurance. The police say it's very common, and my husband just shrugs his shoulders and says it's one of the hazards of urban living. I, on the other hand, am a basket case. I rang Victim Support but I still feel terrible, but other people tell me far worse things have happened to them and they just say I'm lucky not to have been in, and so on. My husband is getting impatient, saying I must pull myself together. But I'm OK for a bit and then I find myself in floods of tears and anxiety. What can I do?

Angela

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; or fax 0171-293-2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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