Picture this: You are standing at the mouth of a cave situated in the valley of the Great Zab, part of the Zagros Mountains in Kurdish Iraq. It’s about 70,000 B.C. and you keep very still as you spy upon the funeral rites being administered to the Neanderthal medicine man. The shaman was only 38 years old, but was much beloved by his community. He is placed sideways in the grave, in a sort of fetal position. Weeping women and children strew the grave with sympathy flowers of the type the shaman, named Shanidar IV, used to treat the ill. There were flowers to treat inflammation, as well as diuretics, astringents and stimulants. Handfuls of cornflower, yarrow, ragwort, grape hyacinth, woody horsetail, hollyhock, bachelor’s buttons and St. Barnaby’s thistle are mounded over the corpse. Perhaps some words are spoken, maybe just a few grunts. You quietly get up to leave so as not to disturb this sacred flower burial, and head back into the time machine with a bag full of pollen samples.
Though we can’t prove it, this daydream may have been experienced by Ralph Solecki in 1960 when he discovered Shanidar IV’s remains. Three other Shanidars had already been discovered and removed. It would take another eight years before the pollen samples from the grave were analyzed to identify the medicinal plants at the site.
We know it now as surely as did the Neanderthals 60 to 80 million years ago: flowers are a thoughtful, loving way to express sympathy on the passing of a loved one. Today, we choose flowers for their appearance and fragrance rather than their medicinal properties, but the motivations in the two time periods must have had a lot in common.
A good Internet florist can provide you with tasteful arrangements and wreaths, some for as little as $29. Certain classics never fall out of style: roses, pink lilies and spathiphylum are always welcome. For those with a little larger budget, florists will create beautiful standing sprays and wreaths. These are usually stood on an easel and can be breathtaking. Another popular alternative is a tasteful casket spray that is draped on the closed coffin. You can also purchase keepsake rosaries handmade from flower petals. A full-service florist may even sell bronze cremation urns if appropriate. The mark of a good florist is that your arrangement will look beautiful, whether it cost $30 or $300. They understand that in a period of grief, a kind helping hand can mean a lot. Always use a florist that has an experienced staff dedicated to delivering superior service and the highest quality flowers and plants.