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On the Level with Neville

On the Level with Neville

A retail gift experience in a modern florist shop

Sweet death will come to all of us (although I think there are a few people I know who are un-dead), but the way death is handled has changed a lot, especially in the past few months. I think of the “traditional” funeral, with the hearts, crosses, etc., and, of course, the full spray across Aunt Hilda’s casket, along with vases, baskets and the occasional “Gates Ajar” (mine slammed shut years ago, btw!), but I’m not having those thoughts so much of late, that’s for sure. The gathering of families isn’t quite the same these days for most of us, either, what with social distancing, face masks and not being able to enjoy the obligatory plates of squares and smart sandwiches afterward.

I’ve had so many experiences with the new ways of doing things, and it’s been a whirlwind of emotions like never before. I had a young fella call me at the start of our lockdown, very upset because his dad had died. He was on the other side of the country, with a wife and three kids, and he couldn’t come home because he’d be under quarantine for two weeks both here and again when he got home. On top of that, his mother was under quarantine, alone (I know, right?), and he really didn’t know what to do. Of course, there were no funeral services, so I made a lovely floral piece and sent it to his mother so they could have a “Zoom service,” at least.

I also recently sent flowers to a lovely lady in hospice who was expected to pass within a week—again, alone. The family had a beautiful virtual “get-together” with their mum/grandmum, along with beautiful flowers I sent to her. She was thrilled, as was the family, because she got to enjoy the beauty of the flowers with her family while she still could.

I, too, have been going through some challenges because my own mother took ill and wound up in hospital in the middle of this mess, and, at one point, we were told she’d be gone in a couple of days (they were wrong, and she is determined!) Anyway, she called me (we couldn’t get to see her, either) to have a “chat,” and one thing she said was, ”Neville, although I know it’s not good for business, I would rather not have flowers at my funeral. Really, they are for the living, and what am I going to do—sit up and look at them?” I replied, “Well, you probably won’t sit up because you’ll be cremated, but let’s think about what you want done.”

We decided that she really did want flowers for people to celebrate her life with, and so I would send flowers to several special people in her life, both now and after she’s gone. I said that we need to do more than that, so we decided we’d tell anyone who wants to think of and celebrate her to send flowers to someone they love—in her memory—perhaps doing so annually, too—on her birthday rather than on her death day. I think this is a lovely thing, really, because it’s a different take on the dreaded “In lieu of…” we see so often. And it’s good for business, too!

Most of us have been in or know of Zoom meetings, right? (How many of us had ever even heard of Zoom before COVID-19?) We are seeing a trend of live-streaming or “Zooming” funeral services now, and we can offer a lovely floral piece to be used with a photo of the deceased, much like we have always done.

Many of us who rely on the funeral trade have been hard-hit, but “necessity is the mother of invention,” so we, as an industry, have put on our thinking caps. Thankfully, many have shared their ideas with others to help grow and sustain our industry. One thing I heard was how we can still capture sales by offering customers the opportunity of ordering a wreath or other tribute that can be placed at the grave site later and/or a beautiful floral piece in memoriam for the church. Others have suggested that a good way to honor a loved one who has passed is to send flowers to first responders, hospitals, nursing homes or other places, to show they care and to give thanks.

Restrictions are different all over the world—well, often from one end of town to the other, really—so we must be more mindful than ever to respect and guide our customers. Patience is a precious commodity, and although some twit said, “Ignorance is bliss,” he (Thomas Gray) was wrong! Of course, most people won’t understand we can’t get flowers as readily as we used to in some places, and I find myself offering a “Plan B” to most, just to be safe.

Really, all flowers celebrate life, and, for the most part, people are understanding. And as for the rest who feel the need to take it out on us florists, well, my friends, that’s why some of us keep a bottle of chardonnay in the back fridge behind the salal.

We are all trying to survive and thrive, and I am thankful that we, as florists, are doing all we can to help the world share love through the beauty of flowers! Stay well, stay safe, and be kind to each other.

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