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.
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.