Would you do my hair?
It seemed a simple request. Almost like we were young and making believe we were in the movies. “Sure” I said, “it would be an honor.” I meant it, though only half understanding the promise that I had made. I understood my promise, I didn’t understand what it meant. To me, to Pat, to the others. It seemed almost casual, the request and the response. It seemed so easy, amid the many conversations. The truth was I really would consider it an honor, but I wasn’t aware of the ripples of the stone that I had cast. In truth I didn’t know that the pond was so large. I thought it was a task I could do, and that was it.
The call came in the morning, and I was, as usual, doing something. I can’t recall even now what it was, but I was only partially ready to add it to my duties. So, I shifted the list of activities and headed over. The task was actually straight forward and simple, the problem wasn’t Pat, it was me. I only thought I was ready. I only believed I could do it without any problem. When Kelly showed up we talked and chose the clothes, we hugged, and I started. I had done Pat’s hair often and we had talked about the task for today, but I was challenged by it somehow. The hair wasn’t the issue, it was me. It wasn’t a surprise, it was just… now.
The hair was the same, it was the timing that was bad. I wasn’t ready like I had thought. I was getting closure, but it felt forced somehow. I wasn’t ready. When I did this, it would be the last time and I was feeling cheated. Where was it, that the anger bloomed? Not at Pat, certainly. But where? I was challenged to look at the time spent, and not spent, calls made and not made, cards mostly not sent. Friends, that didn’t like the fact that the end came now and acted selfishly rather than with grace. Others mad at Kelly for not enough emotion or for too much, depending on the assailant. Some even mad at me for staying through with what little I had done. Truthfully though, there was no other path that I could have chosen. It was the only path I could walk, and they didn’t understand.
Pat’s hair was of little consequence. There wasn’t much. It was the act that mattered, to the parents, to Kelly, to me. The requirement wasn’t for me to like it, it was for me to do it. I allowed the friends to grieve, as only they were ready, for that is my path as well. I allowed them to feel the same as Pat about me, free enough to do their hair. Even if it was the last time. Especially if it was the last time. Like now, for Pat.
Time had passed, and so too, now Pat had passed. Sooner that wanted, you should not have to bury your child. We don’t get to choose though. Kelly had proposed only so short a time ago. After the cancer and the treatment and the remission. And after the return. “It was time”, he had said. “I waited too long. I should have chosen sooner.” Knowing the outcome would not have changed, but the contentment level would have… he looked into the distance, wondering about tomorrows yet to come. And the being alone.
“Kelly”, I said. “I will do your hair, too.” This was as much for me as for Kelly. I needed the time to grind through the function and the mechanics of the thing. Kelly would look better, but this was for me. Time with my fingers in the hair, the comb, the closeness of the touch, the smell. The tears, that heal and that melt pain into something we can taste and lightly wipe away with the touch of a hand of a friend. Quiet and personal. Proximate and specific. You, me, close, intimate. A granite memory of connection that forever will mark a time and place and thing. It will be repeated in a couple of days, but with a real marker. Of Granite. Of permanence. “I did Pat’s hair the last time”, I can see myself telling a friend wistfully, one day in the tomorrows that will come. Which Pat will not share. That we will, together, as friends. Brought to a common place by the grace and strength, of the struggle and doubt and anger, resolved on the gristmill of the thing. A piece of granite in a different shape. For a different purpose. This thing called the end.
Not all of us are called to such a walk. Perhaps it would have been another that had been called if Pat were not made of such stuff that kept me close. Close, long before the beginning of the end. Long before… when smiles were exchanged easily. Hope is a thing shrouded in hidden knowledge. Anticipations of tomorrows built on hopes, with truths not spoken because they are not known. Possible, to be certain, but that kind of thing happens to “others” that we only read about. At least that is the thing we tell our selves. That younger version of us. The one that still believes it, most of the time, as we stay busy.
Pat may not have been your friend, but you know someone like Pat. Someone that will one day need someone to do their hair. For the final time. Someone that will have to come and straighten and position and clip. Hair that will no longer grow. It is the tender act of kindness, perhaps by the hand of a stranger. Hired for the task, but professional and good. Or the hand of one that has, for years, done this task with light banter and a funny joke or two.
Here is the irony of the whole thing. Pat had been the one doing hair for years. The one that was called and asked to make an adjustment to the schedule. To help a family that needed a hand in a time of turmoil. Pat, the gracious giver of time, came. Looking at pictures and listening to the stories, and then crafted a work of art that would be seen, by only a few, for the last time. It will now be as it had been. A question of intimacy and pride and grace and tenderness, and time spent that was already spoken for. The time came when the question was asked, “Would you do my hair?” The question hung, silently waiting... “I will get my things…”
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