By St. Augustine resident Ed Albanesi
Local wedding planner Karen Erwin was so often surrounded by beautiful floral arrangements and bouquets she sometimes wasnâ€™t able to see the flowers.
This hit very close to home with her when she was visiting with her mom in July 2012 in Tallahassee. Karenâ€™s mom had been seriously ill for many months and was nearing the end of her life while under hospice care.
During the visit a beautiful floral arrangement was delivered to the room. Karen soon discovered the flowers had been donated by a bride whose wedding had taken place the prior day. The bride had asked that they be donated to a hospice patient. All at once Karen was able to see the flowers.
â€œAt that moment it quickly came to me,â€ Karen recalled. â€œAll these years I had been missing the mark on what to do.â€
Karen is a Miami native and has been a professional wedding planner in St. Augustine for nearly two decades. A graduate of Flagler College, she owns and operates St. Augustine Weddings & Special Events.
The business caters primarily to brides who have chosen St. Augustine as a destination wedding. Some of Karenâ€™s clients have even come from outside the United States.
The experience with her mom in Tallahassee was a wake-up call for Karen. Two things happened almost immediately upon her return to St. Augustine. She lives just down the street from the Haven Hospice offices and met with one of their representatives to see if they could handle flower donations. It was an extremely easy sell.
She also began asking her clients if, following wedding events, they would be willing to donate their flowers (most would get thrown away otherwise) to hospice patients.
â€œSome brides were so excited to do so that they asked if they could help deliver them,â€ Karen laughed. â€œThen I had to remind them that they were scheduled to begin their honeymoons and may have a conflict.â€
Karen told me that the bridesâ€™ parents, especially the fathers, usually warm up to the donation of their daughtersâ€™ flowers. Flowers are a very expensive component of weddings and usually you can tax deduct 50-60 percent of their cost through the donation. Karen called it a â€œwin-win.â€
â€œAt some point during the wedding I usually remind the bride the flowers she is enjoying during her special day will soon be delivered to hospice patients and many of these patients could be in their final days of life,â€ said Karen. â€œNot only does it make the bride feel even more special but itâ€™s very uplifting for patients and their families to realize there are others thinking about them in their time of need.â€
Carol Albanesi is a professional liaison for Haven Hospice. She is often on the receiving end of flowers donated by Karenâ€™s clients. Carol works with Haven nurses, other staff and volunteers to ensure the flowers find a good second home.
â€œWe rearrange the flowers and deliver to patients in a variety of settings including skilled nursing facilities and some who are homebound,â€ Carol explained. â€œIt goes a long way towards making our patients feel connected and provides the donor brides an opportunity to share love and kindness with someone they have never met.â€
Sometimes Carol delivers the flowers to nursing stations at the care facilities. She understands what Karen discovered firsthand.
Reflecting on her momâ€™s final months Karen said, â€œWhat they did for my mother at the end of her life was priceless. I am in awe of nurses.â€
You donâ€™t have to be from out of the area or even a client of Karenâ€™s to donate your bridal flowers to hospice patients. According to Karen it is very rare when her clientâ€™s flowers do not get repurposed. Others in the business might want to take note.
Nineteenth Century clergyman Henry Beecher once said, â€œFlowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.â€
He might rethink that after witnessing the smiles they infuse and the souls brightened among hospice patients who receive them.