The purchase of a new houseplant is an act of optimism. You may have killed every pothos and peace lily that has ever lived on your windowsill, but this will be different.
This will be the plant that you take good care of, that you water enough, but not too much, that you feed to Mozart and Radiolab when you leave the house. It will get well. It will be strong. It will have a nice, serious name like George Clooney or Ms. Plant. You will live happily ever after.
It is a real disappointment when this plant hits the bucket.
Mourning for a plant may seem silly. After all, it's not a pet. it didn't cuddle with you, played with you, or even deliberately relied on you. But just as a healthy houseplant can have real therapeutic benefits, the death of a houseplant can have real psychological and emotional repercussions, especially given the parental connotation we gave plant care.
Caring for a plant is often seen as a simple precursor to taking care of something "more difficult" like a pet. The plant care community even speaks the language of parenting ̵
In some cases, plants even act as substitutes for pets, be it due to housing regulations or financial barriers, and cause plant parents to invest even more emotional energy in their leafy addicts. "I tried to make [my plants] more like pets and less like plants. They have names, ”said a woman named Natasha last year. "I glued a few googly eyes onto their pots. I like to have something to watch out for. “
Houseplants b as for personal reasons I will die …
– 𝔐𝔞𝔯𝔰 (@sailormarspimp) August 3, 2019
At this level of emotional investment (and anthropomorphism) death can occur Really sting the plant. If you take into account the wrong pressure from "plant parenting", the effects can feel downright frightening. I definitely fell mentally when a plant died unexpectedly: If I can't take care of a plant I think I probably can't take care of a pet, and I definitely can don't take care of a child. Oh my god, I conclude that I am sweaty in my own brain. I will be a bad parent.
This conclusion is of course not checked. Even if you or I have driven a single fern to death – and maybe we did – it does not mean that we are not suitable for general care. Nevertheless, it is understandable to feel inner unrest about the decline of a plant, especially because death is so involved in the ego.
"It is believed that caring for a plant should be easy so that shame can go deep."
"Mourning for a dying plant is usually more about self-criticism of the ability to do things to do it right, "says Marina Resa, who specializes, among other things, in bereavement in pets. "There is an assumption that taking care of a plant should be easy so that the shame can go deep, especially when a plant dies that is said to be" impossible to kill ", like a cactus or succulent."
If a plant has long died in your possession, the mourning process could be even more difficult, added resa. After all, this plant "saw" things. It is a living life by your side that offers you beauty and comfort in stressful times. And now, instead of promoting your connection to nature – a blessing that is not easy in the digital age – you have dried it up.
Bobby Shultz, a 29-year-old data engineer and bicycle mechanic When he lived in Oakland, he informed me via Twitter DM that there was indeed a "bad parent" debt in his grieving process. "I killed a plant in college that I called Juniper Sera," he said. "I really felt unsuitable for fatherhood. No kidding."
I know the feeling. A few winters ago, I returned to my apartment after a devastating breakup and found that my peace lily, which had thrived through four roommates, two apartments, and a busy midsummer train, was dead. It wasn't just dramatic either – it was tight as if someone had sucked all the moisture out with a straw.
The separation I went through felt bad, just like the separation. But when I looked at my once beautiful plant, which now looked like a lump of overcooked spinach, I linked my failed flora to my failed relationship. I was afraid that since I couldn't maintain these two things, I couldn't maintain anything – at least not long enough to make it really important. I felt like I had failed on a role that I didn't even know I had. (Remarkable: women feel a much stronger social pressure to take on a supporting role.)
Shultz and my experiences are not universal – not everyone will feel devastated by the loss of a plant. Depending on the circumstances, you may feel angry, angry, or even relieved. After all, grief comes in many forms.
Sophie, a 26-year-old Los Angeles writer, said she was irritated when her plants died, but not with her. She is angry with the plants. "I think: After everything I've done for you, will you pay me back like this? “, she said. All I need is a vacation for you to call him quits? “
I was afraid I couldn't feed anything, at least not long enough to make it really important.
A law student in Boston who asked me not to use his name said I am still angry with a plant he gave to a friend. This plant died within a few weeks after the friend didn't water it. "It was as if all the care and attention that I devoted to the thoughtful search was chewed and spat on my face," he said. last year author Keri Wiginton described the stress of seeing her plants wither in spite of her best efforts – far from the serene environment she had expected with a house full of plants.  "After potting my croton and my calathea – and a handful of other botanical beauties – I expected immediate relaxation," she wrote. "Instead, I felt tense … After a while, I didn't like how my houseplants felt: annoyed and disappointed in me."
When she finally let the plants succumb to their various ailments, Wiginton felt much better. "It turned out to be a bad idea to surround myself with visual signs of my inability," she concluded. Now she likes to grow outdoors on a raised bed, a kind of garden that often thrives without much help from outside.
Of course, we do not all have access to a raised bed. We also don't all have access to a green thumb. No matter how you feel about your horticultural endeavors and what strong cultural or personal powers have prompted you to do so, you know that they say nothing comprehensive or irreversible about you.
The harrowing incident with the peace lily did not change my relationship with plant care. I am now the owner of four healthy plants. (One crucial change in my nursing style: I don't call myself her mother.) Shultz adopted a kitten that is much cuter than a plant and forgot everything about juniper rose. I am sure that since then the law student has given better friends better-received gifts. We can try all the plants again if we want to, and if we don't want to, that's fine. Are there other ways to brighten up apartments – amateur flower patterns, right?
For me, the process of plant mourning was an urgently needed warning to treat myself gently and not to turn every setback into a referendum on my ability to succeed. "Ask yourself what importance you attach to the death of this plant and whether it is fair," said Resa, the therapist. "What does killing a plant say about you? If you ask yourself these words, you will probably find that you are far too critical of yourself."