Jun 24, 2022

Reminiscence therapy: The power of floral tributes

Floral tributes as therapy

I once cared for a lady in residential care, who we shall call Iris. Her entire life held a strong association with a wide range of floriculture. Iris told me it all started from a very young age when she would pick violets from her grandmother’s garden and place them on her pillow every evening. 

Another favourite was the deeply provocative scent from Lily of the Valley that would fill the house with a copious aroma that would last all day. Those childhood memories and the association of happy, playful times with her grandmother gave lasting pleasure and appreciation for all species of flowers.

Iris told me she met her husband when she was only 16 years old, working as an assistant in the local florist shop; he was a dashing young air force officer at the beginning of the war. He had come into the shop to collect flowers for his great aunt, a large bunch of yellow and orange dahlias, apparently her favourite flower. 

Iris recalled she was so shy and blushed when he asked her what flowers she liked, nearly fainting with embarrassment, although she recounted saying, “pink roses, purple freesias and sprinkled with gypsophila”, in a rushed pre-rehearsed shrieking voice. He smiled and winked as he left saying, “Must remember that one.”

The following week, as Iris was waiting at the bus stop to catch the bus home to Franklin, a shiny black car pulled up and the driver leant over and offered her a ride. It was the handsome young air force officer. She knew never to get into a stranger’s car, although she thought, ‘Well, I do sort of know him, and he seems nice.’ Even so, thinking back it was a little daring and reckless. 

He dropped Iris just outside her house. “I’m Bill, by the way.” He then asked if he could take Iris to the pictures on Saturday, they were showing Beyond Tomorrow. Iris was nervous as a kitten and replied she would need to ask her mum and would let him know. “OK,” said Bill. “I’ll pop into the shop tomorrow to see what the answer is.” 

The following week Bill turned up at Iris’s house with a bouquet of flowers – pink roses, purple freesias and a scattering of gypsophila. This was the start of their romance, they were married the following spring, Iris held the same arrangement of flowers in her bouquet on their wedding day. 

They settled in the village of Franklin, a small cottage with a white picket fence and flowers growing everywhere. They were blessed with two sons and a daughter. 

Every year on their anniversary, Bill would present Iris with the very same bouquet she loved so dearly to commemorate their wedding day. This tradition lasted for the 56 years of their marriage. 

Bill once described her chosen bouquet as complementing each other – Iris was the rose, he was the freesia, and the children represented gypsophila. 

Sadly, Bill passed away last year, and the pink roses, purple freesias and gypsophila decorated his coffin as he was laid to rest.

Iris told me her house was always full of vases of flowers, either from the abundant supply of seasonal flowers from their garden or her devoted husband. She said bringing the outdoors inside was not just about creating a scenic view of the landscape, but allowed the aromatic perfume to dwell within the home.

Flowers have always played a big part in Iris’s life. She was responsible for the floral displays at the local church, and when the children started school, she opened a little flower shop. 

Iris was in her element, surrounded by her favourite things in the world. She grew to understand and learn about the many species of flowers, their origins, their cultivation and their significance in people’s lives. 

She would study people’s personalities and connect them with the flora she believed suited their character. Her love of flowers extended to the pictures adorned on her wall, even to the type of preference of perfume, Anais Anais. Iris told me that fragrance reminded her of the most perfect scented garden.

In Iris’s small room at the aged care home was a large selection of family photographs and framed pictures of flowers from around the world. She had many books about botany and magazines from the floral society of which she was a lifetime member. 

The family would guarantee that Iris had a weekly supply of flowers delivered to her room, arranging an annual delivery of her wedding day bouquet to be delivered on her wedding anniversary of pink roses, purple freesias and gypsophila. 

Iris told me she knew she was blessed because she understood people were like flowers and that life was just one big garden. 

We are all born from a seed, we all grow into full bloom and blossom and give pleasure to those around us until we fade and eventually die and return to the earth, just as we do as humankind. 

“I am at my happiest when I am surrounded by flowers, and the memories of my family with the connection they bring to my lifelong journey.”

Iris died three years later, and as she had requested, her coffin was adorned with pink roses, purple freesias and gypsophila. 

She was laid to rest alongside her beloved Bill. The family would bring the same flowers to their graveside each year on their wedding anniversary, never forgetting the influence they had on the generation left behind.

A familiar fragrance is often reminiscent because the brain can detect the aroma and recall the memory associated with the emotion.

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