Editor’s Note: This is a co-authored article by The Havok Journal’s owner, LTC (Ret.) Charlie Faint, and one of his longtime friends, who wishes to remain anonymous but is the daughter, wife, and mother of US military veterans. The first part is contributed by Charlie, and the second part is from his anonymous friend.
“I’ll bring flowers to his funeral, but I should have given them to him when he was still alive.”
That’s what I took away from a conversation I recently had with one of my Havok Journal colleagues in one of our recent group chats. I’ll explain:
One of the things I love about owning The Havok Journal is the way that it allows our team to help fellow veterans. In a group chat we were having about pitching in to assist a very ill fellow veteran, one of my female colleagues mentioned giving flowers to the living. Having recently lost a fellow veteran and close high school friend without having the opportunity to tell him goodbye, I was struck by the concept of giving (funerary) flowers to the living. In the context of the overall conversation, it was clear that this concept was familiar to my colleague, but the expression was new to me.
I was intrigued by the turn of phrase. Funerals are, of course, more for the living than the dead. After all, what have the dead for flowers, or a funeral or… anything for that matter? No, the dead are far past caring. The funerals are for those of us who survived, to mourn together and to celebrate the life of someone who is now passed. Why would we give flowers, in this case funerary flowers, to someone who is still living? Isn’t that a little… awkward?
So after ruminating on my friend’s words, I went to Google and searched for: “Give flowers to the living.” One of the first results was an old hymn titled, appropriately enough, “Give Flowers to the Living.”
This was my favorite verse:
Another thing I love about The Havok Journal is the way it helps reinforce the bonds of the Veteran Community. My research for this article made me think of a friend of mine, whose family has been friends of my family for a long time. Her husband and I served together with the national-level Special Operations Task Force in Iraq, and over the years, our families have often enjoyed each others’ hospitality and friendship. She experienced a near-death medical emergency last year, but I never saw her give up hope or shed her positive outlook on life. “Give your flowers to the living” is exactly something I imagine her saying. So, I called her up and asked her for her perspective.
This is what she had to say:
“Time is your flower; flowers are for the living and for being enjoyed by the living. Once we die, this life is no longer available to us, we have made the transition to the afterlife. So, while we are alive it is important to remember the impermanence of life, and to never take it for granted.”
When we are younger, we believe we have an inexhaustible amount of time, that the future will always be there to enjoy, with friends and family. But as we age, we recognize that there are fewer days in our future than there are days in our past. We start to experience the loss of family and friends, and we begin to consider the mortality of others, and our own mortality, ever more closely.
Sometimes, the time we think we have is just an illusion… for at any moment, all the time you think you have can evaporate in an instance…with an unexpected life-threatening illness or a terminal cancer diagnosis.
It has been said that time is the “coin of the realm,” you can’t earn any more of it and you never know just how much of it you have left, so spend that coin wisely, with love and joy. Spend it not on flowers for the dead, they can no longer enjoy them, but rather spend it on the ones you love, that are living. Take the bouquet of your time and give the flowers one by one, to those who are here with you in this life, for them to enjoy with you.
Not to say we should forget the dead, or not honor or respect their memory. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t spend time at their final resting place or to not send flowers to commemorate their lives or to console those loved ones that continue with life. These are all important traditions of life as well.
But all too often a funeral is when distant family and old friends make the time to gather, to say farewell to someone that is already gone. Would not the flowers of their time have been more meaningful and more appreciated had they been shared while they were still alive?
So, whenever you can, give freely the flowers of your time and your love to those who can still enjoy them, while they’re still around to know that you care!
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Charles Faint served 27 years in the US Army, including seven combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with various Special Operations Forces units. He also completed operational assignments in Egypt, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea. He is the owner of The Havok Journal and the executive director of the Second Mission Foundation. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect those of the US Government or any other person or entity.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.