Nobody wants cancer, at least that's what I'm thinking. Nobody wants it even if the doctors say it's curable, though, of course, it and every other condition life affords us becomes relative as we can't help but compare how it could be better, or much much worse. But oddly enough, even though the "cancer world" is filled with all kinds of support systems that help people become or remain positive, there isn't so much that helps patients -- you know, people -- recognize grieving when it comes, and even name it so that the deepest of chaos and a crying that feels like it will never end, can be better accepted as a necessary part of life.
Alice Miller is one of the poets of psychotherapy who spoke of the profound difference between mourning and depression. She, herself saw depression as flatness, as the opposite of what she saw, not as happiness, but as vitality -- the capacity to feel all things as in the Latin and Italian "vita." Mourning what is lost, who dies and the fantasies of being filled up that we will never realize -- is a road to that vitality, to a claiming of all the emotions that can help us be alive to the gamut -- love, fear, anger, sadness and more. I have at times helped others, when they felt so down as to be convinced they were emotionally dead, even endlessly so, that they were grieving -- which is a vastly different matter, and really a process both deeply cutting and painful, and yet full of life and living at the same time.
I have seen the look in faces of people dear to me: A worry that I am not heeding the positive offerings and advice soon enough. I have seen worry turn into anxiety that can turn into impatience, and I know this is about the human condition, not just about cancer, not just about my cancer. We get antsy when we don't see the change coming our way, and as such anyone who needs to grieve outside the prescribed times -- like the death of a loved one -- can feel overwhelmed by overpowering waves of sadness too strong to put words to, at the same time she/he sees worry in the eyes of those near.
My own story was not that different, and I -- even though therapy has been my profession -- had some time when my emotional state worried me, and obviously those closest in my vicinity. It was actually anger that came to my rescue, as I was no doubt moving into grief from an even, more collapsed situation just prior. I woke up with a start and said, almost out loud, but not quite, that there was no way in hell that I was going to get my hair cut the coming week in a salon where I would feel exposed. Fine for others to feel that a discrete haircut in a salon might do the trick, but it couldn't and wouldn't work for me. I didn't care, went the refrain, if my daughter did it for me at home, with or without a razor, but just not publicly.
It actually was a fierce and resounding actualizing of my own theoretical bent, though it didn't come from a formal ideology of any sort. I am all for our getting in touch with our vulnerability, but not only that; I'm for protecting it becoming one of the gateways to courage. For instance even here that started to happen. It was like, damnit, I need to do some of these things my way, some of the things I can control, I want to, and how my hair comes off is one of those things. Or rather was, because this past Friday night, a mere day and a half ago, a young woman who was both gentle and wise, and a cosmetologist no less, came into my home with utter respect for my dignity, and helped me plan, and carry out the actual "haircut," if you will.
I had heard there was such a person in Fort Collins, but I had left her card somewhere, surmising I wouldn't be needing it. So I contacted an organization called "Hope Lives," a resource in town that provides free services to breast cancer patients, and then I stopped by to speak with its promisingly, non-condescending director, Melissa, who offered me a choice of hats, blankets, (I took a soothing cream colored one, which she said I shouldn't feel guilty about) and she gave me some information, including the name of someone who cut hair for free at home for cancer patients. I called Katy, Katy Deckard to be precise, who is founder of the voluntary outfit she calls Haircuts 4 Hope, for which she is now the sole practitioner as well.
I called her, and we spoke, I'm sure feeling each other out some. Her mother had cancer more than a decade ago and she cut her mother's hair and her mother's friend's (in solidarity was the latter), and she felt badly for the women consigned to going to any public place for this occasion. To her, she said, this was the moment for a woman (and sometimes a man) to declare to the world there was illness going on, and most probably cancer. She felt the public nature robbed people of the dignity of having their feelings of whatever nature. We did it, thanks in great part to Katy, whose work I feel, needs to be supported, honored and shared.
It's not Valentine's Day yet, obviously. But it is a holiday people plan for, not always with ease or self care or even dignity since there is so much, you know pressure. So I'm sharing the sentiment that allowing for grief, sadness, space, dignity -- is part of loving. What's more, if we opt for this definition, many more of us will have a Valentine -- ourselves or someone who gets us.