I got my hair cut today. And I cried. Last time I got my hair cut, I cried too. I might cry the next time it happens. Because when I look into the mirror I don’t see the face I’ve grown accustomed to seeing for the last eight years. Because bleach isn’t flying everywhere and laughter isn’t echoing and I’m not calling him “Pig Pen” because he is such a catastrophic disaster of a stylist. Sure, I never once walked out of the salon feeling less than fabulous, but, good lord, he created a work of art in the manner of an elephant with a paintbrush. And I miss him. So I cry.
I cry because it seems so ludicrous that life can go on. That my hair still grows. That I still spend time, money and energy to look good. When he is no longer here. When the ticking time bomb of an aneurysm exploded, taking him from his community, his wife, his adopted daughter.
I will never forget the phone message from the salon. They said, “We’re going to need to reschedule your appointment for this coming Friday. John is in the hospital, and we’re not sure if he will be coming back to work?” What? People go to the hospital because they are going to get better, so they can come back to work. I called back immediately, and the poor girl at the front desk relayed the information to me, as she had been doing again and again and again all day long. John had suffered a brain aneurysm and was in a coma in the hospital.
Then she asked me the question that has haunted me ever since, “Would you like me to reschedule you with another stylist?” I froze. I couldn’t breathe. I asked her to repeat herself using the “What did you just say?” tone….you know, that tone that you use when a four letter word comes out of your child’s mouth. She very quickly picked up on my lack of inclination to schedule with someone else, and suggested that I call back after I thought about it. I said very clearly and firmly, “John does my hair.” She said, “I know, I’m sorry.”
I hung up the phone and shook my head hard as if I could rewind and replay and come up with a different history. Instead, two days later he died, and I was left in a dilemma that I have faced before after the death of a loved one. The dilemma of life moving on. And how insignificant so many things seem when faced with the significance of a life ending.
Once, after the death of a very close friend, I was driving by a local park and people were out playing tennis. I was so full of rage at their insensitivity that I was in the process of rolling down my window to shout at them for their blatant disrespect when my husband caught my arm, grabbed my hand, squeezed hard and wrung out the tears so close behind the rage. It’s okay, Susan. People will keep playing tennis, they will choose a restaurant to eat at for dinner, they will paint their fingernails and go to the zoo, they will buy new cars and upgrade their phones. They will even schedule a haircut.
Hair grows even after someone dies. Food needs to be prepared. Mortgages need to be paid. Guitar lessons need to get scheduled. Birthday parties need to be planned. Yet, I have also discovered that people who mourn move on like amputees. Learning how to function without a limb. Yet always aware that that limb is missing, even when those around them forget because they seem to be functioning so well. Even when I forget because I get too caught up in the reality of my dark roots growing in. Tangled in the transient things of life. The incidentals that morph into vital necessities.
I wrote a card to John’s widow today. And I might even write one the next time I get my haircut. And maybe even the next time. Because even though the earth still spins and the seasons still turn, I want her to know that I see her living without a limb. Without her partner. Without her planned future. That his life is not forgotten. That it is honored. To let her know that someone on the outskirts of her universe holds a little bit of the memory and the sorrow with her. Even someone as distant as a client from a salon.
Maybe you know someone who has lost a loved one. Maybe you have had to move on yourself. If so, I want to let you know how sorry I am and how brave you are each day. And if you know someone who has experienced a loss, maybe you could take a moment today to let them know that you remember. That life matters. That memories matter. That their pain and loss matters.
Our God said that he holds all of our tears in a bottle, and he writes them in his book (Ps 56:8). And if loss matters to our God, then I want it to matter to me. Sure, I will move on, and as a therapist I will help others move on. But I will never move away. Away from the pain, or the memory, or the grief.
And every time I get a haircut, I hope He cuts me to the heart once again and reminds me to remember.
P.S. The featured photograph is courtesy of my dear friend Cristin Spriggs! I don’t have much skill with a camera, but I have some very talented friends and look forward to their art accompanying my words as often as possible.