Love heals. Flowers heal. Last November, our 10-member team at Keepsake Floral had a unique opportunity to help our city and the families who lost loved-ones in the tragic shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando this summer to do just that .. to heal .. WITH FLOWERS .. beautifully preserved flowers.
Keepsake Floral has been preserving special occasion flowers for clients nationwide, for nearly 24 years. Although the vast majority of our clients are brides whose wedding bouquets we preserve, about 10% of our business comes from families interested in preserving sympathy flowers from memorial and funeral services. For brides, our preserved flowers provide memories of a beautiful wedding day .. the only tangible thing other than the wedding ring that the bride held on her special day, displayed in her home for decades. For funerals, our preserved floral keepsakes provide not only memories of a loved one no longer living, but they enable us to allow those flowers to “live on” in the instance where the loved one no longer can. The tangibility of the actual flowers in these cases, can help the grieving with their healing process in a very beautiful way.
Honoring the Pulse victims
In the days after the shooting at Pulse Nightclub on June 12, the staff of Keepsake Floral so wanted to help these grieving families, as so many fellow Orlandoans desired, verbally offering our services via our own social media circles. But without a direct contact to any of the family members, we were unable to effectively communicate that we were interested in preserving flowers from the funerals of the 49.
Enter Michele Morgan of Katherine’s Florist in Clermont, FL. At the request of Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan, Michele and her staff created 49 floral wreaths that were on display in the City Hall’s Rotunda for nearly a week post the shooting. Michele called Keepsake Floral and we jumped at the opportunity to serve!
Each of the 24” wreaths were uniquely designed.. just as the 49 victims were each unique individuals. And all were exquisite! On Sunday, June 20, we spent several hours pulling anywhere from 8 to 12 blooms from each wreath. Keeping the respective wreaths’ flowers separate was important as we labeled each grouping and then brought them back to our facility just on the other side of Orlando from where the shootings occurred. Two of our team members then spent several more hours meticulously placing the flowers into the proper dehydration methods.
Shadowboxes for Those Grieving
As the flowers dehydrated over the next several weeks, our team garnered material donations from a handful of different industry vendors, from shadowbox framing to embroidery and glass etching. . which certainly reduced the normal expenditure necessary to create nearly 50 keepsakes. Once planned out, our design team spent somewhere near 150 hours meticulously painting each bloom and then placing it into each respective shadowbox. Our framing staff spent nearly 40 hours cutting and prepping the shadowboxes for each keepsake. The glass front of each shadowbox was etched with the victim’s name, and we included a photo of each victim within the shadowbox containing his or her respective flowers.
As our team worked on all aspects of the creation of these keepsakes, from floral design, to frame production, throughout the months of August and September, we were continually taken aback by the sheer quantity of the keepsakes. And when we placed all 49 floral designs onto our Design Studio layout table for their final color touch-ups, the realization that each of these floral keepsakes represented a life senselessly cut short on just one night was an emotional and sobering event. It was then that I realized that what we were doing for these families had great magnitude. And it was just then that our entire team really stopped throughout the necessary busy-ness of the keepsake creation process and the gravity and quantity of the losses really hit us all.
The last keepsake created was a 30” x 30” shadowbox, inside which were several flowers from ALL of the wreaths. The names of the victims were also etched on the glass of this keepsake, which we are told will hang in City Hall not only in memory of these victims, but also as a symbol of the love expressed by the City to all of the families affected and to the entire community who grieved with those families. Keepsake Floral was so honored to help this happen.
Making an Impact
Commissioner Sheehan visited Keepsake Floral in September, while we were finishing up the keepsakes. That afternoon, she expressed her heartfelt gratitude for the work we’d done for the families, as she did at the presentation ceremony last night. And although none of us had ever met her before, without knowledge of how we view the significance of our service for grieving families, she totally “got it.” She said, “these are not just flowers in shadowboxes for these families. These are so special. These are the flowers that were alive when their loved ones were alive. And by preserving them, you’re helping a little bit of that life live on. You’re helping these families and our city to heal.”
Last night, all 49 individiual 10 x 10” keepsakes were displayed, along with the large full wreath. Close to 60 Pulse Victim family members and other community members, walked slowly along the three eight-foot display tables, weeping and consoling each other as they stopped and studied the flowers and photos of their loved ones taken too soon.. their “flowers plucked before they bloomed,” as the pastor described it last night.
Today, two days before Thanksgiving, the day after the presentation ceremony, which included words from both Commissioner Sheehan and her fellow commissioner, beautiful music from a string quartet and an eight-piece vocal ensemble, dinner and words from a local grief pastor, we are doing one last thing .. we’re shipping Hector ’s keepsake to his mom, who couldn’t be at the ceremony. Hector was born the day before Thanksgiving .. and she’ll receive his floral keepsake, from Keepsake Floral, on behalf of the City of Orlando, on the day before THIS Thanksgiving. It is our hope that Hector’s keepsake will help his family heal on that difficult anniversary, as a little part of Hector’s memory comes home to his mom on the anniversary of the day his life began.
Paving the Road to Healing
This entire months-long process has helped our Keepsake family heal, helped us contribute to our community in a real and positive way. It has truly been a labor of love, enabling us to meet people we would not normally meet and work with community and industry members on a real human level .. an opportunity that as professionals, no matter what industry we’re in, rarely presents itself. It has shown us that, in a time when we all see so much senseless hate and discord.. in the media and in real life as we saw in Orlando in June .. we are only and handful of a loving and open-hearted community of humans who, when presented with the chance, can rise .. and love .. and heal.