New York State Funeral Directors Association

We didn’t have a huge display for my mother-in-law’s funeral four months ago, but there were some really pretty flowers and equally beautiful plants. Most were brought or sent by very thoughtful people.

At the time, I couldn’t have cared less about the flowers and plants. It was a time I just wanted to end as soon as possible.

I figured those plants were disposable decorations. Now I realize they’re a form of grief therapy.

The flowers all wilted – fortunately that was after I was able to get pictures of them.

But the plants people sent to the funeral really gave me something I could direct my attention towards, beyond all the regrets that come to mind when I think of my mother-in-law Bobbie, who deserved more time.

She deserved more everything. I could’ve taken her out to dinner. I could’ve called her once in a while instead of relying on my wife to take care of her. I could’ve done a lot of things.

These are all meaningless thoughts now, because I can’t reverse time.

But the plants, they’re a different thing altogether.

They’ve given me something positive to focus on, despite the calamities that have ensued since I decided to take care of them.

They are, well most of them anyways, living things I can care for while struggling with thoughts about how things should’ve been different.

It was a bit late, maybe a week or so after the funeral, when I realized those fancy decorative baskets were filled with houseplants you can care for.

One basket had like 10 plants in it, a smaller one had six, I think.

Why I thought they were disposable, I don’t know. There were no tags, descriptions or any other writing on them.

When I realized they were houseplants that could be kept alive, I went and bought some pots.

I gently pulled all the plants out of the baskets and planted them into some potting soil I had in the garage.

That was the first of a long string of lessons I started learning about keeping houseplants – a hobby I always wanted to get into but never did.

The potting soil was old and void of nutrients. I had to replace it all. Some of the plants were yearning to grow, so I had to replace their pots with bigger ones.

And then there’s my cat Willie. He loves plants. Loves to eat them, that is.

Now I’ve got shelves at least five-feet high off the floor all over the house.

There’s a shelf in the bedroom – that’s empty now due to insufficient light.

I’ve got one that looks like a bird cage hanging on the wall in the den – it’s got a door in the front so the cat can’t get in it.

The plants that like that type of light outgrew that cage so it sits empty, like the one in the bedroom.

There’s three new shelves in the bathroom – seemingly the best spot for these quiet, green symbols of life that bring up thoughts of that terrible November I’ll never forget.

There’s shelves in the other room that I haven’t even hung. I still trip over them on my way to get something out of the printer. I may have gone too far with my shelving purchases.

These are just a few of several lessons.

Apparently you don’t have to water plants every other day. I went from that to not watering them for almost two weeks.

I’m somewhere in the middle now, and I think the ones that survived are starting to do OK.

Some of the plants refused to cooperate and just withered and died.

Some nearly died before I learned you don’t put houseplants close to the heating system’s baseboard radiators.

Others died the day after I decided to put them in the window so they could get some nice, bright, direct sunlight.

But the other ones are growing and I’m learning what they want.

There were other plants too, like the peace lily my wife’s employers sent to the funeral. It’s the biggest peace lily I’ve ever seen. It sits across from my desk at work, like a reminder of sorts.

And there’s the plants my mother-in-law had at her apartment that we brought home to care for. They’re all doing well, thankfully. I think if they died it would be a major, major disappointment.

I tell myself that if Bobbie’s plants are doing well, and the ones I’m caring for in her honor are doing well, then she is too.

Sometimes I tell myself she’s “up there” watching over the plants and that she considers the care that I give to them to be a care I’m directing at her.

Other times – when the plants wilt and give up – I tell myself that’s not the case.

I hope to keep all these plants alive and healthy, like my memories of Bobbie.

If I could complain about anything, it’s that nobody told me those plants in the baskets at the funeral were plants you could take out, put in pots and keep alive.

They’d be a lot more healthy if I knew that earlier.

But then again, I wouldn’t have cared at that time anyways. I just wanted those ugly days to end.

EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association