Written by our Founder and CEO, the Celebrations Pulse letters aim to engage with our community. By welcoming your ideas and sharing your stories, we want to help you strengthen your relationships with the most important people in your life.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending the memorial service for Ted Marlowe, a friend and beloved member of our team. With over 50 years of experience in the floral industry, he played a vital role in managing our partnerships with licensees, franchisees, and Bloomnet florists nationwide.

Ted was remembered for being even-keeled, very easy to get along with, and a doer no matter the obstacle. He knew how to get things done and brought others along for the ride. He made countless connections over his career, including meeting his future wife, Anty, at our office.

All the relationships Ted forged were on full display at his funeral. Amid all the flowers – you couldn’t have squeezed in one more arrangement! – his family, colleagues, and business associates, who flew in from all corners of the country, gathered to share stories about Ted.

funeral rituals flower

Everyone said the same thing: We are all better for having known him, been mentored by him, and being part of his life. The sadness was there, but so was joy in celebrating his life. It reminded me of how important funerals are in strengthening the social bonds of a community.

The role of funerals

The rituals of saying goodbye to the dead are as old as recorded history. The first human burial is believed to have taken place over 100,000 years ago! Funerals are critical to the grieving process and our mental health, providing a sense of closure to the bereaved. But there’s also a social element as the community comes together to support the loved ones who remain.

These rituals have changed significantly in recent years. I remember a conversation I had with the late Todd Van Beck, who was known as “America’s funeral director” after he wrote numerous books about the industry. In our chat, he recalled his grandfather’s services in 1962.

We laid his body out for three entire days in a funeral home, with a funeral on the fourth day. The reason was that our clergyperson said it needed to imitate Jesus’s three days in the tomb. At that time, the church had tremendous influence.

These days, funeral rituals take less time. They’re typically confined to a day or even just a few hours. As Todd noted, they’re often arranged at the convenience of the family and the visitors. And since the pandemic, technology has allowed for virtual visitation. Thankfully, these haven’t replaced in-person gatherings.

The trend toward greater accessibility and inclusion serves to boost the role of funerals as community gatherings that tap into our innate need to come together at a time of loss. Even though funerals are no longer days-long events, more people can reflect on the life that was lost and provide support to the mourners.

A “five-minute” lesson for living life to the fullest

Ted’s funeral prompted everyone who attended to think about life’s fleeting nature. Ted was just 74 years old when he died, but he made the most of his life. It was obvious from all the people, the flowers, and, above all, the stories we heard.

The community was left with the question: Are we living life to the fullest?

After I told my friend Dick Auletta about Ted’s service, he reminded me of a sermon delivered in 1986 by Rabbi Kenneth Berger. He spoke about a then-recent tragedy, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. He noted that its crew survived the explosion and did not perish until the capsule had hit the ocean five minutes later.

celebrating life funeral rituals

Rabbi Berger’s point was that people often forget to express their love and appreciation to their families and friends. They think that there will always be more time. He returned to the Challenger explosion as he concluded:

That scene still haunts me. The explosion and then five minutes. If only I… If only I… And then the capsule hits the water, it’s all over. Then you realize it’s all the same — five minutes, five days, 50 years. It’s all the same, for it’s over before we realize.

Less than three years later, the rabbi was aboard a jetliner when its engine exploded. For 40 minutes, the passengers prepared for a crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa. Rabbi Berger and his wife died in the crash (their two children survived), along with 110 other people.

It’s a reminder to us all: Live life like our friend Ted did, as if you have just five minutes to live.

All the best,


Jim McCann is the founder, CEO, and chairman of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. as well as a business leader, author, and philanthropist with a passion for helping people deliver smiles. Devoted to helping others, he also founded Smile Farms, a 501(c)3 organization that provides meaningful jobs in agricultural settings to young adults and adults with developmental disabilities.

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