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By Khimm Graham

When my Mother died, her wake was three days long. I attended the last day in a navy blue velvet dress with an ivory linen collar trimmed in crocheted lace. It was new and special for such a solemn occasion.

As a child, it wasn’t my first funeral or the first person I viewed in a casket, but this was my Mother and I approached the flowers that surrounded her in shock and awe. There were so many – fragrance clouded the room with a distinct sweetness.

Everything was pink like the tulips in her garden and she was dressed in an angelic gown with blue satin slippers. I focused on the details of the roses so I wouldn’t see her face.

Just as I tried to kneel before her, my Great Aunt Mary lifted me from behind and pressed my face to that cold, hard-powered flesh and insisted, “Kiss your Mama goodbye.”

My lips knew that she wasn’t there and I couldn’t cry for the woman who resembled a mannequin image of the woman who stood so tall and strong and fell so weak. So I felt the ruffled carnations and stuck my nose in the big white mums while my little brother paced in a little blue suit peeling the skin from his artist fingers.

It was many years before I attended another funeral. My Grandfather died and I sat in the back of the dark, ornate room watching others file past his body as I stared at the matching baskets beside him, wondering how they made such perfect bows out of the wide red satin ribbon.

Approaching 30, re-evaluating loss and religion, vocation and value, I answered an ad for a floral designer. Baehre’s Florist was a very old shop with greenhouses of stephanotis vines in a beautiful knotty pine showroom. The odor of chrysanthemums instantly comforted my senses and I was home, so I was hired.

There, I learned the protocol of a wake in floral terms. Not only how to make a satin bow out of a 5-inch wide ribbon, but the significance of every beloved, gilded script.

The importance of relationships defers to the head of the deceased and the wreath that encircles a vessel of cremains is measured with genuine precision.

By personally delivering these pieces to a room for a stranger so lovingly waked, I understood and studied death because it was constantly present. And in understanding, I made peace with the process and earned respect for the adoration – especially for my Mother.

The old pros who taught me the art of this ancient design have since retired, and many I admire have died. The details are in my hands, and I hope many others still care as much as I was taught.

I feel the last breath of departed souls and the love of family in my work. Pictures in the obituaries help me create tributes that inspire, for I see the faces of a life on paper as I do in my mind’s eye. To know that I have satisfied their spirit and consoled someone they love is the reward in every flower sent with dignity and reverence.

In “Song of the Flower,” poet Kahlil Gibran wrote, “I am the last gift of the living to the dead; I am a part of joy and a part of sorrow.”

These words complete the circle of precious life. No trauma can crush you if you open your heart to the signals on this mysterious journey. It may take years to find light in the darkness, but to explore the path of the abyss can answer your prayer and strengthen your faith.

Khimm Graham, a floral designer who lives in West Seneca, reflects on the value of her work.

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