Flowers, nuns and psychoanalysis

Over the last several weeks my husband has come home every weekend with several bunches of daffodils and early cheer.

‘Because they’re cheap,’ he says. ‘$10.00 a bunch.’ 

I’d prefer he didn’t buy them. That, too, I don’t say.

Waste of money, I think, but don’t say.

It falls to me to put them in vases, although the other day he asked our daughter first.

I got to them before she had the chance. 

No point in leaving flowers with naked cut stems lie around on top of the table clothed in a sheet of brown paper and ready to wilt. 

 I put them in a large vase on the kitchen table and when my daughter saw them she asked if I’d simply put this week’s fresh bunch in with last week’s dead ones. 

‘No,’ I said, ‘Did you really think I’d do that?’ knowing full well that I had toyed with saving as many of last weeks stems still presentable and adding in the new ones.

As I pulled out daffodil after daffodil I noticed that each yolk yellow trumpet still stood tall and seemingly fresh, while the pale yellow frilly skirt around it had started to grow brown and wilt. 

In the end I tossed the lot onto the garden for mulch. 

There you have it: the old and the new. 

‘They look like they’ve just been tossed into the vase,’ my daughter said and leaned over to rearrange them. 

‘Fine by me,’ I said, and she laughed.

‘I thought you enjoyed this type of thing.’

I do not. It rates to me like housework: something we have to do and regularly. The end result is satisfying but in no time at all the place is messy again.

No, I do not enjoy arranging flowers.

I enjoy that first moment of beauty, especially if, like freesias and most of the flowers in early spring, they give off a perfume that infuses the room.

But thereafter I find it almost intolerable how fast they die. 

In days, they’re past their prime. 

In days, they begin to wilt. 

In days, the water goes murky and needs replenishing or topping up and in days, I begin to wonder how long I can leave those flowers on display without its being obvious they need to go.

Years ago, I admired my analyst, Mrs Milanova, for her doggedness in providing her consulting room every week with a fresh bunch of flowers, most likely from a florist.

Some of them, like the gerberas she was keen on and the tall stemmed tulips, came with their stalks propped up by a twisted coil or some type of wire or green covered cable to disguise its presence.

This artificial propping up annoyed me, though I never told her as much. 

It still annoys me.

I can understand its usefulness: tall stemmed whatevers are going to topple faster than those with short stems or lots of branches covered in leaves. Unless they get help.

To me, flowers represent life gone too soon.

I prefer something with a longer shelf life than cut flowers. I prefer something that’s less likely to remind me of the transience of life. 

Flowers also remind me of churches and the chapel at my school where my favourite nun, Sister Dominic, had the task of replacing them regularly.

She also had the task of going to the florist to buy them. More often than not the florist gave them over to the nuns free.  

What was that like? To receive things for nothing simply because you wore a habit. 

In any case, because I was in love with this nun when I travelled through my teens at boarding school and away from the world, my passion for her intensified and I did anything I could to be near to her, including helping her in the sacristy. 

She tolerated me there and gave me the job of smearing Brasso over each of the vases the nuns used to hold their flowers. Letting the liquid Brasso dry and go white, then scrubbing it off with a soft cloth until the vase shone like gold. 

I preferred this task with its strong chemical smell to the task of arranging flowers. Not that I ever did this.

I sensed Sister Dominic disliked this task too. Not that she said as much. 

Nuns did as they were told. They went where they were told. They took on whatever was asked of them by their Reverend Mother because this was part of their vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. 

Although I spent my last several years at school contemplating the life of a nun and imaging that the only way I could be close to my favourite nun was to join her, the idea of such silent obedience appalled me, just as it did twenty years later when I entered the analytic training. 

Then, too, I figured one way of being able to stay close to my analyst, my beloved Mrs Milanova, was to become one, too. 

It was easy enough to abandon the idea of becoming a nun once I went out into the world and looked around me at all the things I would miss out on, including the company and certain pleasures of men, but to leave the analytic calling proved much harder. 

Like a flower cut down in its prime ditched from the vase, faded and ready to turn into mulch. 

When they’re so much happier left in the ground.

4 thoughts on “Flowers, nuns and psychoanalysis”

  1. I guess your readers have to be of a certain age to know what Brasso is. I am and have used it.

    Priests and nuns are weird. Why forgo the pleasure of sex when you are young? Ah, many didn’t and a whole heap did it all wrong.

    1. Convent life is perhaps as weird as Brasso, Andrew, a thing from the past. It made sense then, but seems very odd now. And I imagine if we pitched back into the past, the things happening now would seem even more weird to us back then than now. A type of evolution. Thanks, Andrew.

  2. I probably buy Carrie flowers twice a year and never for an occasion; flowers are an extra, a treat. I would get my head in my hand to play with if I spent too much on them so it’s usually a £5 bunch from Asda or sometimes I push the boat out and fork out six but never seven. The same goes for wine although it’s getting harder to find half-decent vino for under six quid nowadays what with inflation and all the rest. I never drink it—it all tastes the same to me (and that would be awful)—but I know her preferences.

    I’m not really a plant person. I’ve mentioned this before but when Carrie was looking for the flat one of the two conditions I imposed on her was no garden. (The other was a third bedroom so we could both have our own office.) I don’t have green fingers or, as Carrie would put it, a green thumb. I buy the flowers because she likes them and occasional expressions of affection like this do no harm. I did have a cactus as a kid which I watered when I remembered which wasn’t very often. I sat on top of the soil and God alone knows how it survived but it did even if it didn’t thrive or maybe it did.

    I don’t attach any great symbolism to flowers although I did write a poem about them once and not a very good one but the idea was sound. Do you remember the day of Diana, Princess of Wales’ funeral all the flowers people threw at the hearse? How many? Thousands, tens of thousands? Who mourned their deaths?

    I do remember Brasso from my childhood. There were two brass… I suppose they were plates on the wall but I can’t think of anything else. I can still smell the stuff, clear as day.

  3. I remember the day Lady Diana died, Jim and saw images of all those flowers on TV. Obviously flowers mean a great deal to many people. At my mother’s funeral we threw clods of earth onto her coffin but I’ve been to other funerals where mourners threw down flowers. I prefer the dirt. Thanks Jim.

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