Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Before Death: Beauty

A week ago I made an appointment for Mom to have a hair cut and permanent wave done at a salon near her residence.
She's been long overdue for this perm. At her birthday events, her long hair stuck out around her head like King Lear.
I put a plastic tiara on her head to hold it down.
Yesterday when we made the decision to put Mom on hospice, a sane person might have also cancelled the appointment for the perm.
Mom is weak, barely eating or drinking, but I dragged her out for that perm!
The three-hour plus event is a big ordeal: she had her hair washed, cut, put up in fifty tiny curling pins, soaked in the permanent wave fluid for twenty minutes, rinsed, soaked in a neutralizing fluid, rinsed, set in rollers. Then she had to sit under a hair dryer for half an hour or more and finally have her hair combed, teased, and sprayed.
This is not easy for a healthy person; for someone dying, it was almost torture.
"Take me home! I just want to go home!" she kept saying.
"No, it's just a while longer. You want to be beautiful," I told her and the hairdresser, Bembe, a Mongolian American and senior citizen, told her. (She talked about her own mother, 98 years old and living with Bembe, walking around, cooking a bit for herself.)
"No, I don't want to be beautiful. I just want to die. Leave me alone," Mom kept begging.
At some points she was so weak, almost faint, that I was afraid she might die in the hairdresser's chair. I regretted starting this, especially since she might only live a few more weeks.
I was still debating hospital or hospice with my brother Bill and sister Emily by phone.
The hospice and hospital were calling me.
"I'll bring her over soon," I told the hospital.
"I'll call you back soon," I told the hospice.
To neither one did I admit, "She's at the beauty salon. I can't admit her until we finish her perm, if she survives it."
Somehow we finished it.
Emily arrived, and we took her back to her residence.
Whatever comes, she will at least look good.
Now that's important, isn't it?

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