July 18, 2017


If you want to understand something about grief, borrow my sweet Millie’s dolly Maeva.

Millie came to me this morning, Maeva in one hand, a comb in the other.

“Mama, will you brush Maeva’s hair for me? It’s too tangled.”

I looked down at the dolly she set in my lap and sighed. I knew that was an hour of brushing. Yes, a full hour. A labor of love for the girl I love so much. It’s not for me that I find myself camped on the sofa, working through the tangles in Maeva’s hair and thinking about the tangles I’m working through in my heart.

Brushing a dolly’s hair is basically working through the grieving process.

I try to take a bit of hair to begin with, but the hair is so tangled I can’t even get a small handful free. It’s hard to know where to start, but I know if I don’t, the hair will stay tangled. So I do the best I can. It’s an awkward start. There’s a lot of pulling at the tangles to work enough free that I can start working the comb through.

Finally, I have a little bit of hair away from the rest of the tangled mess and I start the process of separating each hair from the rest until I’m holding a small bit of shiny, straight hair in my hand. I can comb through that little bit easily now. But this dolly has way more hair on her head than any girl needs. For a brief moment I consider giving her a haircut to match Millie’s hair. But even though taking scissors to her hair seems easier, all that hair would still be tangled.

There was a point in my grief I didn’t talk to many people about. I wanted to run away. I was so broken I didn’t want to carry on the life I had been given. It would have been easy to take the scissors to my life and cut myself off. But my heart still would have been tangled. And I had two little people that needed me to start the process of separating the strands of my heart. These are who kept me getting out of bed and going everyday.

I’m not even halfway finished brushing the dolly’s hair before I need a break. My legs are falling asleep from being crossed under me and my hand is getting a little sore. I set Maeva down next to me and stand and stretch. I go and pour boiling water over a tea bag and hop in the shower while my tea steeps.

In the shower, I run my fingers through my own hair. Unlike Maeva’s thick, dark locks, my hair is fine and thin. I’m reminded that grief doesn’t negate grief. I’ve had to remind myself that when I’ve been tempted, in my darker moments, to say to someone complaining about their spouse’s less desirable quirks, “At least he’s still alive!” I’ve also had moments when I have gently reminded to a friend of this after apologizing for talking to me about her failing marriage.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

“It’s ok, I’m always here to listen.”

“I know, but you lost your husband. I should just be thankful for life.”

I looked gently into my friend’s eyes, “Just because I am working through a huge grief, it doesn’t mean your grief isn’t real or meaningful.”

Grief doesn’t negate grief. We all walk our own path, and we all have to face our own obstacles. We’ve all traveled different miles. We’d do well to have more grace with each other and stop comparing our griefs against another’s.

I finish dressing after my shower and head for the kitchen. My tea is the perfect temperature. I take it and sit back down on the sofa and pick Maeva back up. There is a stark contrast between the smooth, shiny hair I’ve combed and the knotted, tangled side still waiting for me to work though. Sometimes those tangles in our own lives are noticeable. Sometimes though, like when I pick up Maeva and the smooth hair falls over the tangled hair, hiding all the knots, we can’t see the parts of our lives we’re struggling with.

Another friend, also in the midst of marital struggles, recently told me that she can’t talk to anyone about what she’s going through because people see her picture-perfect family and can’t believe anything could possibly be wrong. But when you turn over the dolly and brush the smooth, brushed hair away, there’s still a tangled mess under there. Brush away the smiles and the lives we present to the public and you’ll see mess in all our lives. Picture perfect only exists in photos, not in real life. Be gentle, my friends, with one another.

I’m now halfway through untangling dolly’s hair. Sigh. I don’t really want to be doing this anymore. I just want to be done. I remember expressing the same exact sentiments about grieving. But if I stop now, all my work will had been for nothing. And if I try to speed up the process I will just rip hair out and do more harm than good.  I grab a larger chunk of hair. That doesn’t work either. The only way to get through this is one little bit at a time. In grief, one little day at a time. One little hour at a time. One little moment at a time.

I can see progress. I’m getting there.

Millie walks into the room and sits down beside me. Her hand reaches out and she gently strokes the smooth hair.

“It’s beautiful!” She quietly murmurs, running her fingers easily though the brushed half.

“What about this half?” I ask her, hold up the unbrushed, tangled half.

Her nose wrinkles and she halfheartedly tries her fingers in that side but they just stop in the tangles. “Ugly.” Was her assessment. She goes back to petting the smooth side.

“But it’s the same as that side, isn’t it? It’s just not brushed yet. But it will get there.”

She thinks about that for a minute and then her fingers slowly return to the tangled side and she feels all the knots, “It will be beautiful too.” She gets up and runs back into the room her and Sam are watching a show.

“Yes, it will be,” I think to myself. Not sure if I’m talking about dolly’s hair or my own healing heart.

I have left the worst of the tangles for last. Sigh.

Another 20 minutes and the unforgiving and unyielding tangles are finally smooth over Maeva’s head. Finally.

The mess has been put right. The tangles untangled.

For now.

In a week, Maeva will likely need to have her hair brushed. The braids that I quickly twisted into her hair will be taken out. Millie loves to see Maeva’s hair cascade around her shoulders and watch it flow as she lovingly spins her around.

The thing about mess is - mess means life. Mess means love. It’s much cleaner to keep Maeva on a shelf. He hair would never get tangled up there. If I kept my heart to myself and never opened it up again it would be much safer.

But we’re not here to be safe.

We’re on the Earth to be free and wild and to live fully and love recklessly.

I return the braided dolly to her waiting little mama, who takes up her beloved dolly in her arms and hugs her close. Her smile both thanks me and rewards me for finishing the task. All of a sudden, an hour of brushing didn’t seem like such a waste of time. Love is never a waste of time.

Did you hear that? Love is never a waste of time.


TN Quiltbug said...

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing,mand for the reminder. It was needed today.

Unknown said...

Cas you are amazing, wise and a gifted writer. Thankyou

Unknown said...

Thank you. So beautifully written.

custom research paper writing service said...

Amazing .. so beautifully written, i can feel the sweetness and sarrow at time by reading this.. I am so touched i want you to write more stories like this thank you for this master piece: )

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