I was passing a convent the other day and a car load of nuns in ‘civies’ was coming down the avenue.
For some reason, the scene brought me back to another convent and other nuns ~ these ones dressed in black, black habits and veils with those white pieces blocking even a strand of hair from straying down onto their foreheads.
I was six or seven at the time and had yet to encounter death.
An announcement was made in class one morning that one of the nuns had died the previous evening and prayers were dedicated to her memory. She must have been elderly and frail as none of us had ever seen her around school or the grounds of the convent.
Just before lunch, we were told to collect our coats from the cloakroom because we were going to the school church to ‘pay our respects’ to the nun who had died.
As we entered the church, a shudder passed down the orderly line as it transpired that the nun was laid out in an open coffin up near the altar and we were all to file past, stop, and say a little prayer for Mother X who had died.
There was no backing out, no running away, no choice. The rules had to be obeyed. I was absolutely terrified, probably not helped by the horror stories that my brother had told me about ghosts and headless horses, and my little knees were knocking as I tried to walk up the aisle.
The sight of the dead nun was even worse than my worst imaginings and left me with an absolute phobia about dead bodies, a phobia which has never left me.
My mother’s reaction to this whole affair was to go to the school and complain about us being forced to view the dead nun. The response she got was that death was natural and that it was part of our education to see dead bodies. Mother, furious at this stage and thinking of my shivering and shaking at home, asked if it was the nuns’ policy to bring six and seven year olds along to see babies being born.
I always smile when I think of her having this exchange and her description of the absolute shock with which her question was received.
I wonder how I’d have been about ever having a baby if the nuns had followed through on her suggestion?