From Hair to There

Emilee Lost Her Hair. I Lost my Spouse.

Losing her hair was traumatic. When her hair first starting falling out, it was as if she was mourning. There was a psychic or psychological pain that occurred. I think she felt like she was losing a piece of her self, a part of her identity. Her image, one she been looking at in the mirror for decades, was changing, drastically changing. She had long hair since her teens. The transition was scary. As her hair started to look sparse and uneven, it was time to take the big step.

We had a hair cutting party, with Jaime being the designated head shaver. Jaime’s head had been shaved for several years already, being a cancer warrior herself (Jaime has since passed, in Oct. 2016 after a long 5 year battle with breast cancer). And, Jaime had never shaved anyone’s head before, but Emilee was still entirely comfortable with her as the designated shaver.

She had her daughter for moral support, and Carol and Geri here for comic relief and distraction, and additional moral support. We had something to eat first, and Em was doing everything possible to stall. All went smoothly, though, and in spite of some tears, some of which were mine, quietly in the next room, everyone remarked at how nice her head looked. Even though the act itself was traumatic, and it would take a little getting used to, Emilee seemed to be in agreement that she looked pretty good for having lost one of her prized possessions. Still, it hurt my heart. I knew that it cut deeply.

Everyone should try wearing a wig for a day or at least several hours, before going out and buying five different wigs. Yes, five wigs. Of varying hair lengths and colors. To top it all off, she really did not like wearing them, and preferred her self, her natural, bald or short-haired self, as the hair started to grow back. The wigs were warm and got itchy after a while. She was becoming proud of her new look, and less and less self-conscious. She had variety also, bald or bandanna or various other stylish head wear. She also had her sunglasses and her many scarves.

You know, she was cold most of the time. Before cancer (ahhh, now I know what B.C. stands for), she did not like the warm weather, kept the thermostat at 64 winter and summer. We just wore sweatshirts in the house all year long. Now, in the summer the air conditioners were set at 74, and in winter the thermostat was at 70 or more. She was almost always dressed in layers. I had to adjust clothing accordingly, definitely sweating a good part of the time. She would frequently say, “Why are you sweating?”

Sometimes she had a hat and gloves on in the house, especially when she had the chemo pump attached with the 5FU going. Sometimes she just could not get warm. We bought an electric mattress pad, it goes on top of the mattress and under the sheet. Priceless, because it really helped. I highly recommend it. You can put it on prewarm, so when you get into bed, no cold sheets or blankets. Then, she kept it on low most of the time.

So, let’s talk about the initial impact of losing Emilee.

I don’t know if I like my phrase, losing Emilee. Sounds like I am going to find her. I am the one feeling lost. Hopefully, she is not lost anywhere, and knows where she is going. I, on the other hand……let’s talk about the first couple of days.

After Emilee had died, the family came, and were in the hospital room with her. We were not rushed, no one was telling us to get going, and the nurse said they would wait until all our things were packed up and were ready to leave, before they moved Emilee. The funeral parlor wouldn’t do anything before 9 o’clock anyway. It was around 6 or 7 a.m. I had my cereal for breakfast and then we packed up the room. I was feeling strange, almost surreal.

I saw one of her favorite doctors on the way out, and told him Emilee has died that morning. He said how sorry he was, and we moved on to our cars. Mind you, we have two wheelchairs piled high with our belongings, with bags hanging from the wheelchair handles, people rolling luggage pieces. There’s five of us all together, carrying, rolling, all that we had amassed over the course of 31 days. Including, a comforter and pillow from home, and a small pantry of dry cereal and soups. We were a sight. A group of nomads. The Israelites crossing the desert. A bunch of homeless people who found a couple of wheel chairs. Just a few of the thoughts crossing my surrealistic state of mind.

We fit all of it into my Kia Soul. My brother followed in his rental car, and he and I headed to my house. My brother and I were to meet the rest of the family in about an hour and a half at the funeral home, to make arrangements. As I backed into my driveway, which I have done a few hundred or more times, I misjudged the last few feet and heard a cracking or popping noise. I thought I hit the mini maple tree in the front garden, or maybe the corner of the siding which I had dented one or two times before (okay, verrry funny), but when I got out to look, I saw that I hit the electric meter on the side of the house, and knocked it half off, and……I cracked my passenger side tail light. Plus, I noticed that the basement light which is on for one of my plants, was not on.

Great. Can I please go to sleep now and pretend this did not just happen?

I will have to deal with it after the funeral home meeting, but on the way (my brother is driving us….lol…I am now not currently safety rated or approved for driving), I call one of my friends who is handy, and explain what happened. I will have to send him pictures, when I get back home. For the moment, the basement level has no electricity, and that of course includes my furnace and the heat for the house, as well as the box freezer. The freezer will stay cold for hours, but the house will start to get cold.

After the funeral home meeting, the funeral is set for Saturday (this was Tuesday, January 31), the coffin is chosen, the down payment is made, and another appointment is set up to meet with the minister on the following day. Once home, I am sending pictures of the electric meter box to my friend. He instructs me to turn off the main breaker to the house. Then, go outside and see if I can pull the meter off and put it back on, being careful to keep it straight and not to twist or push at an angle, push it straight in, push hard. So, I could only push so hard, and the prongs weren’t all connecting. The basement power came back on but the first floor was now out. Laugh or cry?

Now, call the electric company, because I will need them, and a licensed electrician to put humpty dumpty back together again. Amazingly, the electrician came, spoke to the electric company on the phone, and they got here in 30 minutes. Fifteen minutes later, they were all done. The electrician would not take any money from me, saying, in another place, at another time. I was very emotional that day, and his kindness was enough to make me cry.

And, a call to the car dealer for a price on fixing the tail light…..they wanted $560. Are you kidding me??? No wonder why people duct tape them and don’t replace them. Luckily, my son in law looked up the part on the internet, ordered one that was about a third the price of a new Kia manufactured one, and when we got it, installed it in less than 10 minutes. It took him longer to get the part and the tools out of the packaging, than to install the tail light assembly. God bless him.

My brother kept asking me what I needed in the store, since I hadn’t been living in the house for a month. He took me food shopping. A funny phenomenon was occurring that day. Wherever I went, to the supermarket, a local grocery store, wherever we went where there were people….I felt this strange ability to strike up conversations and connect and it was not always surface talk. I almost felt high, floating, somehow able to touch beyond their skin.

We were in a neighborhood market/deli and at the deli counter I apologized to a man a bit older than myself, for possibly being served ahead of him. He remarked how nice of me to say something to him. This started a whole conversation where we talked about pancreatic cancer, and someone in his family having cancer. I felt like my normal boundaries were lowered, I was more vulnerable, and more able to interact with complete strangers. That day, this occurred several times, talking to someone on line at checkout, getting gas at the gas station, returning something to a department store. It was uncanny. It was what I needed. I felt less alone and isolated, I felt a part of something bigger than myself. For that day, it helped with some of my hurt, some of my bleeding. They did not know that they were helping me cope, I was helping me cope, with Emilee’s death and this enormous sense of loss that I was not even yet able to fully give in to.

I had felt loss before but not like this.

Neal Klein
Life After Emilee, on the loss of my wife to pancreatic cancer. I’m not accepting comments right now but please feel free to get in touch via my Contact page.