What This Isn’t~

It wasn’t that my grief was any stronger yesterday morning.

Since Handsome Husband died, I’ve been living in a state of high adrenalin.  Except that it isn’t adrenalin that energizes.  Nor is it, well…energy.  I guess it can best be described as pain adrenalin.  Just a constant state of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual…pain.  That’s my baseline.  Keeping busy throughout the day, involving myself in need-to-be-done tasks, phone calls, etc.  Being social.  All done from that place of pain.  Moving around it, going through it-whatever else is being done, that adrenalin pain is there as my base.

Circumstances and events happen in life that deepen our understanding of others.  Isn’t that what life is truly about-gaining perspective of ourselves and others and what gets us through it?  This level of constant emotional pain that is my “new normal” (to give it a way over-used label) has given me an understanding of people who cut as a way of dealing with emotional pain.

I haven’t cut.  I never would cut.  It isn’t in my nature.  Buried somewhere deep inside of me is a flame that has never, and will never, be completely extinguished.  I know that about myself.  In my head, a few days ago, the realization was just suddenly there:  “Oh, this is why people cut themselves!”  I could see where anyone immersed in soul-striking pain would take a sharp object and…yes, cut.  The emotional pain goes deeper than bone deep-it goes into the marrow and the lymph system and the very core of your heart, into the length of your fingernails, the roots of your hair-everywhere.  And you seek relief.

Yesterday morning, I was aware of my grief in every facet of my physical and psychic being.  My daughter was staying overnight with me and my best friend, Donna, and I went out to the living room and asked her what she thought about shaving my head.  Her response was maybe I ought to give it a day or two consideration.  She could be right, I thought.  And retreated to find a scarf to bind tightly around my head to help me envision what I might look like with no hair.

Two minutes later I walked out again and asked her and Donna to come into the bathroom with me, where I had Handsome Husband’s hair-cutting kit out.  The last time that kit was used was when I trimmed his hair in hospice, shortly before his death.  Take a picture, I said to them.  And grabbed scissors and a hunk of hair and cut.  Another hank of hair.  And cut.  I cried and cut.  I sobbed and cut.  photo

After retiring from the Air Force in the early 90’s, Handsome Husband grew his hair long.  Lots of military retirees do that, especially if they were Vietnam-era.  It was long and curly.  Beautiful hair.  I didn’t like it on him, but it was beautiful hair.  My brother Kysa died in 1996 and Handsome Husband cut that long hair into a high-and-tight, in a show of respect to my brother and in a show of respect to my grief.

I stood there in front of the mirror yesterday morning, my daughter flanking me on one side-her face filled with pain and, I think, shock in a way, at watching her mom do this, and my dear, more-than-sister, friend, Donna, quietly observing and witnessing my pain, as I hacked away at my hair.  There was no method to the cutting, no styling.  I wasn’t after style.

What I was seeking in this cutting, what I needed, was relief from the pain of this grief.  What I was seeking was an outward sign for this grief that is cutting me to the liquid that is inside the marrow of  my bones. (I don’t know that there is liquid inside the marrow of my bones, but you get my drift here, I’m sure).   Each snapping sound of the scissors, each hunk of hair that came off my head and into the trash, was an acknowledgment of the grief.  Once my hair became too short for grabbing, I balanced the scissors against my head and started snipping.  There was no hesitation, no “I really shouldn’t be doing this” moment.  Only relief.   It wasn’t a loving, carefree, cutting my hair into a new style thing.  This was a sharp, quick, hair needs to come off my head, thing, and put me in mind of people in other cultures who rend their clothes and tear at their hair and fall on the ground to beat at the earth and moan and scream and cry-who fully express what is happening to them:  when someone you love dies, your soul is rent from your body and there must be an expression of that, or your body will become toxic.

Our culture doesn’t, generally speaking, allow much time for grief, for mourning, for outward expressions on a personal basis.  Cutting my hair yesterday, as I did it, with violence, might raise some eyebrows in the DSM-5.  It was nothing but pain that prompted me to do it.  The only thought I had, afterwards, was “By the time it grows in, maybe this pain won’t be as intense as it is now”.

I’m glad I did it.  I do feel maybe the outer-rim-of-a-fingernail length size of relief.  It’s a shock to catch my image in the mirror and I consider that a good thing.  I need a shock.  My life has been shocked.  I’m not crazy. I’m not self-pitying.  I’m not wallowing.  I’m not even trying to be melodramatic.  I’m not anything but grieving in every part of my mind, body and soul.  The man I lived with and loved, the man who loved me deeply, the man whose heart and soul was entwined with mine for 24 years, died a horrible death.  I watched him suffocate, I bathed his body after he died and saw the hole that the tumor eroded into the base of his spine, I touched his stone-cold body at the crematorium so that I could cover two of his toes that were exposed and part of his face that had come unwrapped, including his nose, that was sharpened by the ravages of cancer.  I put my two fingers and my thumb on the switch that controlled the door to the crematorium (otherwise known as the oven), and pushed it up to open the door so that his body could be delivered into the inferno.   I’m shocked, I’m traumatized, I miss his strength, I miss his presence in my life, I miss his knowing-ness of me.  I shudder at the knowledge that he is gone.  Forever.

But that’s just grief.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Shearing the hair off my head acknowledges, to me, that I am grieving, that my life is forever changed.  Simple.

I am woman.  Hear me roar my pain.  5830_10152337263670400_874824526_n


16 thoughts on “What This Isn’t~

  1. I read a book recently about a family from India and it mentioned that when a member of the family dies, the oldest son shaves his head as a purification ritual.

  2. in your case, you had no time to prepare for chuck’s departure.
    sometimes we get that opportunity,.. to prepare…
    you didn’t..
    thanks G-D you are with friends now..

  3. You are so good in expresing your feelings and your pain and very good in writing it.  I was wondering if you would like to publish a book and dedicate it to you Handsome Husband.  I know he would be delighted d by it.

    You are in my prayers.



  4. Again, your writing, you deep love, your deep grief, your passion moves me.

    This quote is from CS Lewis’: A Grief Observed. I’ve thought of this book often when I’ve read your blog lately.
    “Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

    “The most precious gift that marriage gave me was the constant impact of something very close and intimate, yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant – in a word, real.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

    • Katherine,
      I’ve read bits and pieces of C.S. Lewis over the years and he so accurately describes what happens in grief. I think the DSM-5 would have a problem with him, however.

      Thank you for your words. The acceptance and acknowledgement of where I am means the world to me.

      Blessed be,
      1/2 of Happily Homeless

  5. You said it all so very well. Grief is like this and people find various ways of expressing, externalizing and so on. The worst it to internalize grief so it festers. Yes, modern society is very short on patience with grief and the length of recovery. Somehow, it all fits with you, Alison. Keep expressing and doing and some day the smoothness of living will return to you while the rough is not forgotten.

  6. I think you just described and acted on the pain that grief brings. It was a shocking thing to read about cutting your hair but the further I read …i totally understood! !! People never understood how i felt until they were there . ..I know your broken, hopeless , sick from your toes to your nose, and feel so much heartache that words can’t express it. Your haircut was the most awesome yet desperately painful act I have felt. Be strong when you can. Hillary

  7. Wow Alison,
    Once again, I so appreciate you sharing freely your pain that none of us can imagine. As I think about getting married one day, it makes me only want what you and your husband had. Such a blessing to share it with all of us. Your outward expression of grief is much healthier than keeping it in. I admire your courage to get up everyday and put one foot in front of the other.

  8. Interesting that you mentioned that you were not the type to cut yourself. Instead you cut your hair – a part of yourself. You cut your hair help express your pain, to help relieve your pain, to help others see their pain personified, and for reasons that you don’t now know. But you did it.

    Shaving of hair is, traditionally a punishment (a woman who fraternizes with the enemy. for example), a lessening of strength (Samson and D.). an initiation rite (urban and indigenous), a fashion statement (models over the years), a show of grief (you and many others), a statement of war (some American Indians and others) , a declaration of the group to which you belong\ (skinheads, nuns and monks), etc. You have company. Your group is in this is world over, place to place, and over time.

    The DSM 5 is nothing here. It is used to categorize and treat patients. It is irrelevant to what you have chosen here and means nothing. You are a woman in pain and are going through it and expressing. Please don’t use the DSM to judge yourself – throw it out!! It is not for this situation.

    Pain, in the whole scheme of things, is not all encompassing, though it seems overwhelming and all that there is, when you are in the midst of it. Watch the whole thing sometime now with detachment, or maybe later and see if it is everything or whether it is a piece of the universe, with much more flowing around it. I don’t know what you will find, as my mantra is “I don’t know”, but I feel sure that you will find more than pain at the right time.

    Ah, Alison, pain hurts. It is a mystery.


  9. The DSM is nothing more that a diagnostic tool. It does not tell us how to help a patient or to heal ourselves. But your writing is helping me to more truly understand grief and loss. I will take this experience into my work with those suffering from grief, loss, trauma and addiction.Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are in my prayers. I pray for your solace, peace and future joy.

    • Hi Shelley,
      I’m glad you’re able to take something away from my blog. This experience of grief is like none other I’ve experienced (my mom and my brother both within 6 months of each other). If I ever go back into grief facilitating, I know I’ll be even more compassionate and accepting than I was before, so I suppose it is serving for something.

      I so appreciate your checking in with me and hope you continue to do so, as I set out on new roads, without Handsome Husband~
      1/2 of Happily Homeless

  10. Bless you for having such a caring heart and mind. Most will never understand what you are facing now and forever. I wish there were some magic words that we could say to take away the pain and repetitive thought in our minds that keeps us in submission to this painfull emotion of loosing someone we love and will never forget. At the present moment iam lost with thought and emotion and your life story makes me cry because i believe soon i will be facing a life changing event, and im really scared , i feel as faith, friends and science cannot give me the answers for relief because its my own personal love for the person im talking about, your not alone ,

Talk to me~

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