It was all about letting go of the unnecessary, the ugly and even the things that had served us well but were no longer of use.
A group of six women, sitting next to a fire, gabbing away. To take in the scene at a glance, it seemed a normal weekday evening.
But it wasn’t.
My friend was getting her head shaved, midway through chemo treatments.
She had held out for five treatments, hoping her hair would stick it out with her. But it had other ideas. As she said, “I look like that Kristen Wiig character on Saturday Night Live. It’s time to let it go.”
Time to let so much go.
She asked a few of us to be with her while she got her head shaved at home. There we were, on the patio, as we’d been so many times before. Gabbing away. Laughing. Sharing secrets. Only this time, her hair was falling to the ground and flying away in the breeze.
We joked. About how she could tattoo her head with henna—and how we’d play “Bad to the Bone” during the process, to celebrate her new badass status.
And other silly things.
But the silly things were comforting during a scene whose simplicity belied what was going on.
She was facing yet another milestone. First, the diagnosis. Then the decisions. The chemo. And now, her appearance would be changed. It would perhaps mimic the internal changes I’m sure have been going on—but that external visibility can make one feel so vulnerable. Looking at the same ‘ole head of hair in the mirror while battling something so life changing, so big, was a comfort I’m sure. A comfort that now had to go.
Her husband, known more for his humor and energy than for tact and sentimentality, came through with flying colors. He was watching golf inside the house but stopped to watch our little scene by the screen door for a bit. I saw the tears in his eyes, but also his smile. When she uncertainly asked him what he thought, as she sat there bald and vulnerable, he said, “I’m used to it already.” With a smile. And true love in his face. I could see that was so reassuring to her.
It was the perfect thing to say. To dismiss the change or proclaim her beauty would have been too artificial. That’s what husbands who don’t know what to say do. And while she is still beautiful, it’s in a raw way. A way that strips you down to your core and lets people see what you’re made of; for Meg, it is beautiful.
His response was real. And, to me at least, showed the very real love that exists between them. A love I don’t pretend to know the first thing about—but one I’m so grateful for because it is a blessing to her as she faces this challenge.
I had suggested that we all let go of a few things, real or metaphorical, that were weighing us down or no longer of use to us. It didn’t seem right that we witness Meg’s new vulnerability without offering up a bit of our own.
We each wrote on a piece of paper things we were releasing into the fire. From extra weight to bad habits, we each came up with a short list. Meg’s was the best, though. Releasing things like “feeling obligated”, she quickly came up with excess baggage that topped any of ours. Which is not surprising, really. If cancer does nothing else, it strips you down to your essentials. And anything petty or silly falls by the wayside rather quickly. You get really clear really fast.
The fire itself seemed appropriate. We watched our released bits char to ashes or disappear completely. As I’m sure she feels her former life has.
Her hair was released to the wind. I’m sure many happy robins and finches were the lucky recipients, feathering their nests.
It was a celebration of sorts, a gathering. Given that Meg is a gatherer by nature, this made utter sense. It was an acceptance of what is, a celebration of the whittling away of superfluous things, a mourning of what is lost.
I will probably look back on that night years from now, as I can’t imagine looking at a fire again without thinking of this gathering. We joked the neighbors would think us a coven of Wiccans.
Fire, by its very nature, symbolizes death and rebirth. The pain as well as the wisdom and joy that can come from it.
It was a fitting tribute to her journey. And to those of us holding space for her while she takes it.
I can think of no better place to be.
17 Comments Add yours
Sent from my iPhone
Very well written and touching. Best wishes to you and your friends.
What a powerful and beautiful description of what ritual can be in its highest form.
This post and the link to the other were particularly timely for me, Just two days ago I realized I was holding space for a dear friend as she once did for me. This one took me back to the three years my friend had with cancer. She was valiant to the end. Thanks for both of these, Kay.
Beautiful, thank you for sharing, loved the part about the husband, so glad there is such a thing of love like that. Prayers for your friend.
I have a friend from high school that just shaved her head for that very reason…it seems like they’re everywhere.
Beautiful, fighting, surviving bald heads.
And yeah, there are a few things I could let go of…but will I? Probably. When the right mood hits.
The best therapy is a great group of friends who understand you and stay with you and stick it out. Y’all are lucky to have each other…what a fabulous group.
Strong thoughts coming your way, Meg! Very special of you Krisse & your friends to connect with her on what she’s giving up!
Meg is a lucky woman to have you for her friend. And to have a husband like that. Your words are so touching…but his words brought me to tears. It was, as you say, the perfect response. I hope they have many happy years together still.
This was a beautiful way to support your friend. I loved the way you acknowledged its difficulty, the way it would change her, but you all became involved in positive interaction as a result. I wish your friend all the best in her treatment and recovery.
God bless you, Meg, on your journey to get well. My best wishes are with you every step of the way. Kay, you and your friends held a wonderful fire court this evening, letting things go in the fire to support Meg and realize many things about life. Thanks for letting us in on that special event.
An unbelievable post: beautifully written with details that underscore the very real emotions and vulnerabilities of a group of friends strong in support of one another. I loved it.
Thank you for the kind words and for visiting my blog. Glad this one touched you.
Thanks for sharing this I wish all the best for your friend Meg. 2 local friends have recently, and independently of each other, shaved their heads to raise money for different charities…I have to say both ladies look amazing, we don’t need hair to be beautiful 🙂
YOU! too are amazing… to put into words so eloquently the realness of friendship and the bond of women…praying for Meg…. don’t know her personally but I think I would love every inch of her as you do…grace and beauty under fire for sure!
Heart wrenchingly beautiful.
What an amazing group of women you are…truly special friends.
Another tear-jerker. XOXO’s