Making Her Feel Human Again
At the end of her life, my grandmother was not only homebound but essentially chair bound.
She was ninety-years old and living in my parents first floor bedroom.
And when she did get out of her chair, it was to go to the bathroom.
Or to get into bed.
Both were about four feet away on either side of the chair.
And she needed assistance to do either.
There were many days that she never even got dressed, despite my mother’s encouragement.
She just sat in the chair in her nightgown covered by her velvet green bathrobe.
The bathrobe had an intertwined rose pattern at the shoulder points - an unintentional (or maybe not) recognition of her mother.
And while she sat in the chair, she would often look out the window to her right, observing the ‘momma’ duck taking care of her ducklings and swimming in the pond across the street.
I suspect there was more thought involved in that daily observation than my grandmother shared with me - or anyone - but I don’t know that for certain.
Nonetheless, despite her chairboundness, my grandmother still had her pride.
And in all of us, pride can take different forms.
For her, it was in her appearance.
That denotation (and connotation) contains too much negativity.
No.Not vanity. She simply liked her hair to look nice.
And feel nice.
And often commented during my too infrequent visits that the thing that made her feel her age the most, and feel like she was no longer a part of the world, was when her hair was unkempt and growing long.
Not the immobility.
Or the clouded memory.
Or the wrinkled flesh.
It was her hair.
Thinning.And white.But still her connection to humanness.
And my mother, knowing how important that connection was, called around to see who would be willing to come to the house and ‘cut’ my grandmother’s hair.
And Olivia was willing.
Olivia was a former student from the Cosmetology program at the Hartford Area Career Technology Center.
And at the time was working hard to get her own chair in a local salon.
And styled my grandmother’s hair.
She didn’t ‘cut’ it.
She ‘styled’ it.
The former being the physical act.
The latter including love.
And love (did I say that already)?
And although I wasn’t there, my grandmother recounted the experience to me on my next infrequent visit.
Every detail of the experience.
The gentleness in the soft sound of the comb going through her hair, careful not to be pulled or snagged.
The tone in Olivia’s voice when she told my grandmother what she was going to do next.. and then next...and then next… so as not to startle or scare.
‘She spoke to me so kindly,' my grandmother said, 'like I was the one doing something nice for her.’
The concern about whether the cape was too tight or irritating around her neck.
And the attention to detail when the scissor blades came slowly together again and again so as to have my grandmother's hair ‘look just right.’
My grandmother not only said that Olivia was 'sweet and beautiful' but 'had made her feel human again.'
By styling her hair.
And listening to her.
And treating her the same at “ninety-years old as if I were twenty-years old.”
And for the next few days, maybe longer, my grandmother got dressed every morning.
And ditched the nightgown.
And the robe.
She felt ‘a part of life again.’
Is there a more noble result of work?
There is not.
Which is why I have such a hard time with those who happen to prioritize some occupations as more valuable than others.
It happens, doesn’t it?
Someone thinking that a Cosmetologist only works in hair..or nails...or vanity......Rather than in encouragement.Or confidence. Or making someone feel 'a part of life again.'
It happens that someone thinks a doctor is held in higher value than the Machinist.
A lawyer in higher value than the Dishwasher.
A principal in higher value than the Farmer.
Or, in broader terms, the college graduate in higher value than the Non.
But the value in an occupation is not found in the occupation itself.
Or in its hourly wage or salary.
It is found in the gladness of heart in which the worker does the work.
If done with love, caring, gentleness, and attention to detail, then there is value.
And in that way, all work becomes valuable.
Particularly if the work makes someone ‘feel human again.’
In styling my grandmother’s hair - even though you had no idea you did so at the time - you exemplified what the team and me at the HACTC want for all of our students: That whenever anyone asks them ‘what do they want to be when they grow up?’, their mind will wander to the things they can do to help others and they will respond accordingly that they simply want to be ‘happy.’
That is what they want to be when 'they grow up. '
And to have value in their work.
But not value as determined by culture or money.
Value as determined by the traits you showed in styling my grandmother's hair.
And value that can only come with a gladness of heart equal to your own.
Thank you, Olivia, for being such a good example of work, value, and happiness.