Unrequited love and fuschias.
Social media has been a way for us all to be connected even though we can’t currently be together. I have a friend who has not only had to cancel her wedding but is also shielding . During Lockdown she is experimenting with home grown flowers for her re- arranged wedding arrangements. The results appear on Instagram or Facebook. I commented that as a family we always do our own funeral flowers picked from family gardens or hedgerows nearby.
It is not as difficult as you think in any season.
My shielding friends asked me when this tradition started. This pondering is that story, I hope I have the sensitivity to tell it well.
My dad was an ordinary Essex chap. Educated until the age of fifteen and then apprenticed to become an electrician, after a spell in the RAF, cut short by Tuberculosis, he moved on to medical electrical engineering and then ultimately to medical physics.
What was less ordinary about him was his love of Shakespeare and his membership of a well thought of band of Shakespearean Actors who performed at Stratford upon Avon occasionally, I think he continued this until my birth.
My mum and dad had concurrent terminal illnesses , when he beat her to it she suggested that an old school friend and fellow thespian should do his funeral flowers, as he was also a well respected amateur florist.
The village we lived in had several same sex households and it was not considered anything but normal in all the time my family lived there during the 60’s to early 90’s.
Dad’s old school friend and fellow thespian was half of one of those couples and their garden was a village highlight every summer.
I dutifully popped along to see the gentleman, who was thrilled to be asked to do a families floral tributes. He scrambled around to find some paper and a pencil and asked for my details. His reaction when I gave him my dad’s name was not what I could have anticipated. The horror, on his face, as he wailed ” My Star, oh no, my star. I’ve loved him since we were at school” will live with me forever. He collapsed into a well upholstered chair and started to rock and weep. Unsure really what to do under such circumstances I offered him my condolences and apologies for the shock. Tea seemed appropriate so I made my way to the kitchen and managed to both make us tea and find cups to drink it from.
He was more composed on my return and we talked about my dad and the acting and other stuff. The paper and pencil were never used. The floral tribute would be a tour de force of floristry, created from his own garden and delivered to the undertaker free of charge. His sorrow was intense and he assured me as I left that the flowers would be great, his partner would be both understanding and a reliable assistant.
My Dad attended his own funeral weighed down by the largest, campest wreath imaginable. Made entirely of garden flowers and foliage it was a thing of beauty that trembled with the unexpected and unusual addition of hundreds of fuschia heads.
I don’t think my Dad had any idea he was someone’s unrequited love. He did love fuschias though, so it was entirely appropriate.
Garden flowers have been the way we mark someone’s passing ever since.
Some months later I found this photograph in a trunk.