Confessions of a Hairdresser, Vol.1: Mary Ellen

March 11, 2019

Usually when I meet a new client they will share a few things about themselves. Maybe they’ll tell me about their favorite haircut, their profession, their children…When I met Mary Ellen the first time she opened her eyes very wide, put her hand on her hip and said, very matter-of-factly, “I’m really into haiku, bookbinding and falconry!” My response was like, “Well! …OK! …Thanks for letting me know!” I could see right away that she was a passionate, creative, curious person, and I immediately wanted to know more about all of those hobbies. And her. What I didn’t envision was just how much this strange woman would weave her way into my life.

She was nearly 80 years old when I met her. And the best way I can describe her is tempestuous. She was a whirlwind and had boundless energy and passion. She would turn on you with no notice, then be singing your praises the next. Sometimes she would greet me at the door (I’m a mobile hairdresser) with a mouthful of vitriol about the doorman or her doctor or her neighbor; and sometimes she would fall into my arms in tears because she was frustrated and tired. She expected a lot from the people in her life, but she was also very grateful for her friends and loved ones.

I’m a person who is very comfortable saying “no” to people. I have a very intense life and I need to create boundaries around certain parts of myself, especially my work. I have hundreds of clients and I travel to several of them each day, usually at least 6 days per week. I don’t have time to dawdle between appointments, so as much as my clients sometimes want to visit with me or feed me or tell me their stories, I’m usually not able to fit that into my day. I love my clients and I really do enjoy spending time with them, but when their hair is finished, mama needs to be on her way! But somehow Mary Ellen pulled me into her life and I found myself scheduling time after her hair appointments to visit with her. Her stories are some of the most amazing I have ever heard. She lived a fascinating life and we found a lot of similarities between us. We both have had to hustle a lot to raise our kids and we both have given 100% to everything we put our hands to in life.

One day I got a call from her telling me she had broken her hip and was in a rehabilitation hospital and asking me (telling me) to come see her. Of course I came right away and somehow I soon found myself overseeing her bathroom renovation (she needed a walk-in shower). So much for my boundaries! Soon after her hip started mending she discovered she had cancer. And she knew that was going to be the thing that took her down, as it had to almost everyone else in her family. She was resolved to make the most of her remaining days and I found myself helping her hire a companion to take her to her second home up in Canada one more time. And once she got back from that trip she declined fairly rapidly. I was no longer doing her hair anymore, but I would go see her every few days, just to hang out and talk and help her with whatever I could around the house.

One day I arrived to see her, not knowing if I would be permitted in. She was at the very end and I assumed only family would be with her. But I was invited in and told she had just gone to bed and was pretty sedated on pain killers at the moment. When I went into her bedroom, there she was sitting on the edge of her bed. She turned and saw me with glassy eyes and a slow smile crept over her face. “You came!” she said. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I helped her lie down and cover up for her nap. I lay my hand on her shoulder as she drifted off to sleep and felt an enormous wave of gratitude wash over me. What a gift to have known this woman. And what a gift to have a brief, lucid moment with her at the end. She passed on a few days later.

That was over a year ago, and tonight I got to share about her and lead a prayer at her memorial service. Her family generously invited people from all the areas of her life to celebrate her and share about her. Mary Ellen had a lot of special items, decorative or useful in her home, and her sons brought many of them to the service for guests to choose from so each of us could have something to remember her by. She had given me a special gift from her collection before she passed, so I didn’t have in mind to take anything. But then I saw something that reminded me of the first thing she ever said to me about her unique hobbies. And I took a book she had bound. I plan to fill it with prayers and drawings and the contents of my own tempestuous, passionate heart.


To read and experience Mary Ellen’s amazing stories, check out her unique memoir:

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6 Responses to “Confessions of a Hairdresser, Vol.1: Mary Ellen”

  1. Ardis said

    She sounds fascinating. What a gift to have known her. The energy she had in her 80’s is inspiring.


  2. Isn’t life amazing. You have a way of sharing that sneaks up on me and plants a tear in my eye. I’m glad you took the book. No-one will use it more to her liking than you.


    • Oh, thank you! Re: the book…I journal a lot and this year I switched to a different sized journal. (2018 was small, 2019 is medium–I have lots more to say, I guess!). When I put her book in my pile last night it’s EXACTLY the size of all my other journals for 2019!


  3. Jose Rivera said

    We need more Mary’s in our lives. They are the roots of the community. We live in a world where the elderly are often forgotten or ignored. They have a story to tell and if we put down our phones and tablets they can teach us a thing or two. I promise you that the time you spend with an elderly or a person who is dying is not time wasted. Sadly as a superintendent with 90 apartments I often come across my share of Mary’s. All they want is some of your time. The smile on their face is rewarding. Thank you for sharing her memories and I’m sorry for your lost. Keep posting and sharing your life, it makes an impact on those who follow you. Be well sis.


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