Winter seems to be a time of great change and learning for me. My mother passed away this year on January 1st. For anyone who has lost a parent, the mixed emotions and loss will be familiar. When a parent dies we flounder between our adult selves and the child inside and the grief plays games with both. I understood the experience would not be easy. I did not expect the challenge of supporting my children through their grief.
I have three children. Kai is ten, Kumi, my daughter is eight and Kobe is my youngest at six. My children were quite close with my mom as she lived here on salt spring as they grew. We lost my mom to cancer so the prospect of her death was one we knew, especially in the last months. My husband and I struggled with this concept and how to prepare our children for such a loss. In the end we decided as a family to shave our heads. This was an act of camaraderie with my mother and all the physical changes she was going through and for ourselves to have the physical experience of loss. Many of us hold great attachment to our hair. It defines who we are and symbolizes our character and our style. The loss of our hair to each of us in our family was unique and formative.
My daughter and I both had quite long hair. Kumi at the age of eight was becoming quite attached to her hair, she brushed it daily and was quite proud of its colour and length. To say that this experience was upsetting would be an understatement. It was jarring and heart breaking and completely shattering to her self-image. Kumi wore a toque any time she went out for 2 months after we shaved her head. She didn’t want anyone she didn’t feel completely safe with to see her without her hair. Kumi struggled with her self-confidence outside of the home before we shaved her head so this divergence from the norm broke her thin shield of self-‐confidence.
The day after we shaved our heads, to cheer her up and instill in her a sense of confidence with females, I told her I would take her to the Christmas Pass it On meeting. This meeting is filled with almost 40 young women from grade 8 ‐ 12. Kumi looks forward to attending these meeting one day with great excitement, she looks up to all these young women. I figured the opportunity to unveil our new hair do’s in front of a group of young women I knew and trusted to be sympathetic and supportive would be a good first step for Kumi. The idea of going roused her spirits, but when we were there and it was time to show what we had done, Kumi could not, would not unveil anything. As I looked around the room I understood more than ever how much hair could mean to a person and identify them. The entire room was filled with young women with hair and lots of it. How was my daughter to find confidence in the sympathetic eyes of 40 teenage girls who all reveled and identified in their hair, young women whose own confidence and femininity was defined by their hairstyles.
Letting go is a very hard thing to do. Patience, for me is even harder. I wanted so bad to give Kumi the confidence she’d lost. Better yet I wanted to give her more confidence, something from inside herself that had nothing to do with her hair or her look. We can give our children many things but this is not one of them. When my mother passed away, it was another blow to Kumi. Despite the sacrifice of our hair, Nana had still died. How do you explain to an eight year old that sacrifice does not always reap reward, but often just pairs up with the loss, compounding the grief.
Our bodies are amazing ecosystems that regulate and moderate what we have and what we need. After my mom’s passing, our bodies were compromised by grief. My children got sick, especially Kumi and we had to spend a lot of time at home, drinking tea, reading books and sleeping. Worry and impatience toyed with my mind. What had I done to my daughter? When would she get better? When would she realize that her hair had nothing to do with who she was? We can hold a person and feed a person and love a person but we cannot take away ones grief.
Last week when I went to pick my kids up from school and parked on the road I had a clear view of the schoolyard. Looking in I saw Kumi run down a path to the other side of the yard. She was smiling and she had no hat on, no hood. I watched as she caught up to friends laughing and talking. I began to cry. Kumi had found herself again all on her own. Sometimes all it takes is time. We all must find our own way back to ourselves.
Kumi, at the age of eight has realized that she is everything she knows herself to be no matter how she looks. Without her locks she is still loved and liked and fun and free and she knows this now intrinsically. How many of us know or trust that even without our hair or body shape or make up we would still be deemed beautiful? How much do we truly believe the saying “it’s who we are inside that truly matters”? A young woman in Pass it On last week was mentioning that she took the mirror out of her room and that since doing so her confidence has gone up. Instead of being disappointed by what she sees she trusts her inner eye to tell her how she feels and she lets the people around her be her mirror. We reflect the beauty of the people we love and emulate the love they have for us. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I cannot bring back my mother. Nor can I make my hair grow faster. But I can have the patience to see the process through. I can trust those I love to see me as I am.
Kate Nash – Pass It On Facilitator