Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Question Changed

After Caitlin died, I didn't cut my hair or get those gray-hiding highlights. Not for any reason other than, all I was capable of doing was grieving. Crying, writing, reading, visiting her grave, pouring over condolence cards, holding her blanket, her cloths, and pictures. Grief work.

About a year later, the first visit to the hair dresser brought with it, unfortunately, fodder for more grief work. Sitting next to 8-month pregnant new mom, I tried to avoid hearing the conversation. I could avoid her answers, but I remember hearing the questions. "What is it?" "Is this your first?" "Did you pick out a name?"

My hairdresser, absent minded, though understandably so, asks me, "Do you have any children?" I told her yes, but that my daughter died shortly after birth. "I'm sorry" was followed by more questions, that I'm sure new mom was desperately trying not to hear. I left emotionally beaten--with an external look that no longer matched insides--a great cut with beautiful blond highlights.

Nearly every haircut since is accompanied by the question, "Do you have any children?" I always answer the same and then listen like an academic to how they react, what they say or ask or advise. Gratefully, everyone of them responded with a sincere "I'm sorry." Some will automatically recount someone they know or who knows someone who has lost a child . . . or lost something like a house or a pet. Some brush it off with suggestions that I "just have another" or "get a dog" or "you can always adopt"--they have no idea how difficult adoption can be.  Some gently ask what happened. They ask for her name. They ask how I'm doing.
Two days ago, I walked into a salon and sat down to get my haircut. But, this time the question changed. "So, how many children do you have?" "How odd," I think, "how could she possibly know that I was a mom? No one recognizes motherhood in a mom whose only child is dead." I give my usual answer and then settle into my academia. She was mortified and the "Oh, I'm sorry" nearly made her choke. I felt bad about that, but reason that empathy is good for people and helping people avoid a natural and appropriate response by lying and saying that I don't have children is bad for the human race. What I mean is, it's OK for her to feel. In short she recovered with "Are you going to have more? You can always adopt. Or get pets." While I wish that these statements could make me feel better. But until a hairdresser can bring my child back to life, I will forever endure their need to reach their own equilibrium upset by the knowledge that they now know someone whose baby died. I endure it because they need me to hear their efforts, it relieves that rock in their throat. I don't mind--anymore. I gently respond to each question, with silence. It's the best I can do. I'm at last successful with releasing both of us from the conversation with "Well, when you experience a tragedy like this, you learn to let life be as it is."

Then I leave the chair with a great haircut and smiling. Why smiling? Because someone assumed that I was a mom. She may have done this as a result of my non-highlighted hair--translation--because I'm old. But, "belief makes things real" and I'd like to believe that the assumption was a result of seeing that I carry Caitlin with me where ever I go.


  1. oh I love your last line,
    -"belief makes things real" and I'd like to believe that the assumption was a result of seeing that I carry Caitlin with me where ever I go.-

    I live in a little town of maybe 3000 people. My hairdresser is always the same, she cut my hair for the funeral service, she knows. And she remembers.

  2. I am asked that question ALL the time by people. I am in sales, so new people who don't know my past are always asking - even more so since I'm preg again. It's painful to answer truthfully, but it's what my daughter deserves. I will never answer 'no' because I will never deny her existence in my life. And I refuse to say 'no' when asked if I have other children, because why should I spare them the pain of reality?
    We carry our children wherever we go. You are right. And I am blessed for it.

  3. What is it about hairdressers? I always seem to cop these questions. It never gets any easier answering them, at least not for me.
    Love to you.

  4. Im with Hope's Mama, what is it about hair salons!!! I agree wholeheartedly that we carry them wherever we go, and I know it shows. Hugs xxx

  5. I'm with you on this one. When I get the question I answer it honestly, almost bluntly, but carefully. Almost always I get a reassuring response. They ask questions (which I think is brave) and I tell them the answers. I too think its good for people to hear the truth. Not that I don't totally respect other people's decisions not to share their stories. It's a personal choice but I guess I quite like sharing my little girl with people.

    Great post.

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  7. Hugs. It hurts to tell and it hurts more not to tell. Bless little Caitlin for causing people to feel and empathize and grow in their responses to others. She is still touching lives.

  8. Karen has really summed it up above. It hurts to tell. It hurts not to tell.

    But I think you are right, it is good for the human race. And you do carry your Caitlin with you always. xo