Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Wealth of experience helps during times of loss

It's inescapable...the group of people walking in the store together. The grief on their faces. I'm talking about families who are in need of flowers for a funeral. They come to the door during this season of their life as they have for many other occasions. But, this time is different. Their fragility is palpable; an immediate call to action on their behalf  for these customers who are in so much shock that they may never remember the transaction.
Every day families come in to order flowers but these flowers are of paramount significance. For some, the planning for the funeral flowers may center around color, flower variety or for some a treasured hobby. It's during these times that we're more than florists. We must interpret feelings and impeccably represent them with flowers.
The importance of sympathy flowers wasn't taught to me within the store but rather in a mortuary where I had arrived to view my Grandma Mysse when she died many years ago. When I entered the room it felt cold and harsh. Before cell phones, I remember asking the funeral director if I could use their phone. The person who answered the phone at Gainan's heard the panic in my voice when I asked "where are the flowers for Barbara Mysse!" The phone operator explained they were on their way.
It was then that I realized I was over 2 hours early. When I returned and tentatively walked in the very same room I found two family pieces and a casket spray all in place. The difference was like night and day. Everything was warmer and lighter.
Suddenly my mind was free to remember. Thoughts of her flower gardening, her simple needs, her devotion to her children suddenly came to mind. The iris were there, just as they had always been along the back of the garage. Peony and roses in a variety of soft colors completed the tribute. I was always honored to help customers with sympathy tributes but going forward -- working with them took on an even higher degree of importance.
We've all had times when the ambush of grief was so distracting that we really needed help and sound advice. Fortunately in Billings, the help is there. From funeral directors, clergy, musicians and florists, we are blessed to have a wealth of experience and willingness to serve in these groups. In my situation, thankfully the phone operator was kind and understanding when I called about the flowers and everyone else involved in the service planning did their best. It made a difference to me. Maybe there's a lesson there?
This week my memory went to this situation when a woman came in to pick up the flowers for a funeral to be held out of town. We carried three arrangements and a casket spray and gently placed them in her sedan. I knew the important role the flowers were going to play in her life by the look I saw on her face as she turned to leave. It was obvious she was going to make a special delivery.
As I walked back into the store to the lively music and happy customers enjoying their time looking at the new season arrivals, I felt lucky to have been the person who helped her. You see, she reminded me of my purpose for being here without knowing it.