Originally published Dec. 16, 2012, for Digital First Media and associated publications.
NEWTOWN, Conn. — The refrigerated cases inside Irene’s Flower Shop look picked over — the pink stock and chrysanthemums, particularly so.
“What we’ve got left is what we’ve got,” Carol Edson, the shop’s self-described “worker bee,” said. “We don’t have anything to replace them with.”
Shipments of flowers don’t arrive on Sundays — a day the shop is normally closed.
But this Sunday was anything but normal. A steady stream of visitors arrived to pick their own bouquets from the cases’ remnants.
Most didn’t mention the intended recipients. And they didn’t need to. Edson just assumed.
“Off and on, we’re all crying downstairs,” said Edson, who lives in Shelton. “Then we gather ourselves and go work with customers.”
On Sunday, the tiny shop was crowded by a trio of Christmas trees and red poinsettias spilling from their pots wrapped in pink and gold foils.
A Hanukkah menorah with blue light bulb flames gleamed from the window.
“Holiday season is normally busy,” she said, “but this is just over the top.”
The shop, nestled in a strip mall along Route 25 in Monroe, is about seven miles from the elementary school where authorities say 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adults before taking his own life.
This week, staff at Irene’s will prepare funeral sprays for a few of the memorial services from a basement workshop marked by blocks of Oasis and a half-empty walk-in cooler.
Nearby, a bulletin board matches orders to their destinations. A section labeled “Newtown/Sandy Hook” is particularly marked with slips of paper.
One requests, simply, “all white.” Another wanted pastel pinks with eucalyptus.
“It’s business, but it’s not business we wanted,” said Bob Sabia, the store’s manager for the last 10 years.
Since Friday, the store has been inundated with phone calls from such places as Oklahoma, Texas and Germany.
“People just don’t know what else to do,” Edson said. “They call and just want to send flowers.”
A delivery driver drops them off at Reed Intermediate School. Where they go from there, Sabia didn’t know.
He said the shop planned to work on funeral orders today.
Farther north, in Newtown, neighbors prepared to bury 27 of their own.
Midday Sunday, a man in a red sweatshirt emerged from a backhoe at Newtown Village Cemetery — preparing, perhaps, for a somber scene to follow.
A cemetery official at the site declined to comment about any arrangements.
Meanwhile, Newtown’s single funeral home — Honan Funeral Home — was getting some help from about 90 colleagues around the state through an effort mobilized by the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association.
Each volunteered their time, services, transportation and equipment to “make sure that things go the way that the families want things to be,” said Howard K. Hill of Howard K. Hill Funeral Services in New Haven.
Honan Funeral Home is making arrangements for 11 of the deceased, he said.
While funeral directors deal with death as a profession, he noted the difficulty of handling the lost lives of innocent children.
He hopes his own city, in light of recent shootings and violence, can learn from what happened at Sandy Hook.
“Tragedy is not new for New Haven, and in our communities we have tragedy every day,” Hill said. “I hope the city can take heed in what is going on here, and I hope that New Haven rallies as hard as the country is responding to this community.”
Colleen Honan, whose husband runs Honan Funeral Home, couldn’t be more thankful for the help, she said.
On Saturday, about 10 other funeral directors were at the family-run funeral home on Main Street to help with a challenge that’s both emotional and logistical.
“People don’t realize, there’s endless paperwork,” said Honan.
“It’s great. It’s wonderful. We have my husband and his associate. There’s no way we could have done this,” she added. “There’s just no way.”