So yesterday I went to a workshop on floral arrangement. I mused on the way over that with today’s social media environment and daily battles in the mom wars selling books and magazines and page views, a gal with a graduate degree taking a flower arranging workshop on a Thursday morning had morphed into a political statement. Pffft, Leaning In or leaning out, I simply enjoy arranging flowers.
I’m good at it, too.
I liked the idea of learning something new, as any arrangement I’ve ever done has just been me at the kitchen sink with a pair of scissors and bunches of flowers from the local grocery store.
Johnny was our instructor and he didn’t disappoint. There were some great Pinterest worthy tips he shared to get my kitchen flower arranging “to the next level,” as folks in reality TV shows would say.
Johnny had great stories to share, too, as he does all the flowers for shows like Chicago Fire and has some celebrity clients. My favorite story of Johnny’s was when he shared why he went into flower arranging. His partner had died in an accident and he wanted to make a memorial. He had never done anything like that before, and a kind gal at the flower shop felt badly for him and took him into the back workshop.
Johnny was hooked.
I felt a kinship with Johnny, because for me, too, flowers are an expression of love. Some gals fuss over appetizers or dinner or their hair when they entertain, I fuss over floral centerpieces.
I made a nice arrangement yesterday. I didn’t love it, but I really didn’t understand the process Johnny was teaching us until it was finished. I’ll use his tips on my own next time and I know what I create will be better and more beautiful for it.
After class was over, I found myself unexpectedly sharing with Johnny that I had done all the flowers for my daughter’s burial service. I did the arrangement that rested on Donna’s tiny casket and some things for our home where people were helping us sit our modified shiva.
It came back so clearly as I talked to Johnny. There I was at the local grocers (I miss you, Dominick’s) early in the morning, alone, picking the flowers that would adorn her casket. They were for Donna, so they had to be Donna worthy. And, being at the grocery store, I had to work with what they had.
It worked out. The flowers were beautiful.
A couple of people had sent arrangements when Donna had died two days earlier. I broke all of those bouquets down and handed a single flower to each of the 30 folks or so who joined us that brilliant fall day in October. At the end of the service, after her Dad and auntie and uncle and I had lowered her down into the ground, everyone who loved Donna most dropped their flower on top of the casket — their floral goodbye.
Grief is a really odd thing and you never know when it will strike you. Yesterday, it was at a grocery store in the West Loop.
But listening to Johnny and his story gave me truth and perspective in my own story. No one would have made a more beautiful, more worthy arrangement for Donna than me, her Mama. It was another way to parent her, another way to say goodbye, another way to know and feel how she inspired me.
Plus, you know, I can be a control freak about things I care about. Like flowers on my daughter’s casket.
I come from a family of practicality. We had what we needed and were happy enough and satisfied enough with that. My Dad never brought home flowers for my Mom. I can hear his voice now, saying what a waste flower are, “They’re just gonna die in a few days!”
Yep. That’s what happens with flowers. You get them, you appreciate their beauty and lushness of life, they bring you joy, and then, too soon, they wilt and die.
A lot like Donna.
It all made perfect sense to me in that moment talking to a stranger. I wonder, now, if that is why I take photos of the arrangements I make, that they somehow remind me of the fleeting nature of beauty and life and, sadly, sometimes love. That I want to preserve those flowers by taking their photo, just as I work so hard to preserve Donna by still writing about her.
I don’t think I have ever loved flowers more because now, thanks to a stranger in a grocery store, I understand better what they mean to me, how precious they are, and that an expression of beauty, fleeting as it may be, is worthy.
Thanks to Johnny at Mariano’s in the West Loop for his time yesterday. I will see you, Sir, at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.