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A Gift of Hair

I just chopped off 10 inches of hair and mailed it away. I loved my long hair, but last weekend I had the realization that, since donating my hair was on my bucket list (my lil sis has donated her hair before), there was no better time to do it than now, in honor of my mother-in-law who passed away just weeks ago. Making the cut felt a tad impulsive since I hadn’t been actively considering it even though it was in the back of my mind… the idea popped afresh into my head one night and wouldn’t leave me alone.

I chose Pantene Beautiful Lengths over others hair donation options. Donating hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths lets them create free real-hair wigs that will be given to low income women who have lost their own hair to cancer treatment. Wigs are made by HairUWear and are distributed by American Cancer Society wig banks.

The requirements for hair donation to Pantene Beautiful Lengths:

  • Donated hair must be a minimum of 8 inches long (hair is measured from just above the elastic band of the ponytail to the ends).
  • Donors may straighten hair to measure wavy/curly hair.
  • Hair is washed and completely dry, without any styling products.
  • Hair may be colored with vegetable dyes, rinses and semi-permanent dyes. It cannot be bleached, permanently colored or chemically treated.
  • Hair may not be more than 5% gray. This is because it takes six ponytails to make each wig, and the ponytails for a single wig will be dyed a uniform color. Gray hair (along with permanently colored, bleached, or chemically treated hair) doesn’t absorb color at the same rates as other types of hair, making a uniform color unachievable.

I chose this hair donation option primarily because it makes wigs for adult cancer patients and I wanted to give something tangible to those dealing with the multifaceted challenges of cancer, like my MIL did. Other options are Wigs for Kids and Locks of Love. Here is a nice article that discusses factors to consider when deciding where to send your hair donation. It also debunks the myth that any of these 3 options makes recipients pay for the wigs, but explains how they do sell unusable (too short, too gray, etc) hair to help offset the manufacturing costs.

Seeing my MIL slowly lose her hair brought the reality of cancer treatment home, even before we knew the chemo wasn’t working for her. She gracefully accepted that she would never grow her own hair again, and ordered a wig. She had it styled by her regular hairdresser, something that never occurred to me as a possibility (but then, I had not deeply considered wigs before either). In writing this post, I happily discovered that a small local salon company in my county, Brown and DeLine, has partnered with the ACS as a wig bank location to generously give cancer patients private appointments to fit and style their wigs.

So, here I am a few days after the chop… a little lighter, a little richer. I loved having long hair, but I have no regrets. We get so much by giving.

Karen, post haircut

Give Sorrow Words

“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” Shakespeare, Macbeth

My dear mother-in-law passed into Eternal Life last Thursday, and we laid her to rest yesterday. We are deeply saddened by losing her at what seems too soon a time; she was only 65. We shared with her a Catholic faith and are consoled by the fact that she was able to receive the sacraments until very close to death, and her heart longed for Heaven. If she’s not there yet, she will be.

Today is the first day of inactivity after several weeks of rapid decline and days of bedside vigils, followed by funeral planning and more days of accepting condolences and recounting happy memories with multitudinous family and friends. Right now, I’m not sure where we each are in our own grieving processes, but I’ve eschewed my usual contact lenses for some dusty coke-bottle glasses today to give my red eyes a chance to recover (though admittedly I cry as I type).

A big part of my personal grief is that I am facing a veritable sea of good deeds I can no longer repay, at least in kind. My MIL gave me one day a week, almost every week, for over 10 years… “Grandma Day”, the envy of my friends… where she would come over and watch my growing brood and give me the chance to get out of the house unencumbered. Not only did it save my sanity as a young mother and give the two of us a regular chance to catch up on the goings-on of life, but it forged a solid relationship between her and all of my kids. I had always envisioned myself visiting her often in her later life, returning the kindness she showered on me over all those years. I now need to learn to live with a heavy debt of goodwill I will never be able to pay back, and must find ways to pay forward instead.

I have plenty of distractions to occupy my time now that school is out and we’re on the other side of this unpredictable but inevitable event. Many things I have put off, many things I am now inspired to do. And yet being distracted from the reality of the situation isn’t the solution to it. I suspect the process of finding a new normal after a massive loss like this takes much more than time… lots of unplanned mental wandering, accepting little by little that even these last memories can be joyful, and treasuring the big and small blessings that her life made possible.