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.
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.