I was overdue for a cut and color and finally managed to get an appointment at our local hair salon. This season had been unusually busy down here in Florida, but they managed to squeeze me in because I was a regular customer.
I got there around 9:30 and I heard some rumblings from the other beauticians. Apparently, my usual stylist’s husband had been battling cancer. They seemed on tiptoe, making comments among themselves while she was in the back room mixing my color. I pretended not to listen but I heard every word.
Sarah returned from the back room, oblivious that her co-workers had been talking about her. You’ll never guess that her husband was on the threshold of death because she seemed very composed, easily separating work from her emotions.
The pattern of our conversation continued, as usual, covering current events, the weather, and the onslaught of snowbirds flocking to Florida. And then our chat took a turn.
I heard her mention her husband’s condition to another customer. I waited until she returned to me and venture forth with my condolences.
“I’m sorry to hear that your husband has cancer,” I began, as she continued trapping my hair between the foils.
“I still can’t believe it,” she began. “It came on so suddenly,” she lamented, looking up into the corner of the room.
I could tell Sarah was in denial, efficiently painting the color on my strands, and moving around on my head to address the rest of them. Sarah was a practical woman, not prone to emotional outbursts. She was always efficient, doing her job well, with many in the neighborhood clamoring for her services.
“How much time does he have?” I queried.
“It could be any day now,” she said abstractly, addressing the foils on my head.
I’m sure the distraction of coming to work was a reprieve for her. His death was imminent, but because hospice was there, she felt comfortable leaving him alone for a few hours. It was just too hard to watch her husband’s labored breathing and the distressed state of his body.
I shared my own experiences regarding my mother’s death. My mom contracted lung cancer in 1999 and battled it for six months. The grueling toll that it took on me and the rest of my family members was something I will never forget.
Toward the end, I was told that she only had a day or two to live. I tried calling her that afternoon from work, right at the moment she was dying from cancer. My twin sister told me that mom was unable to speak, so I had her hold the phone to my mother’s ear as I spoke gently to her.
In 2015, my partner and I were with my older sister as she passed from pancreatic cancer, her bloated yellow body inflated like a pregnant seal. As we played one of her favorite Elvis Presley tunes, she took her final breath before she was gone.
I also told Sarah about my partner‘s experience hearing about her father’s death in 2000. Shortly after he died. Erika felt him softly grazing her face from 2000 miles away.
Sarah seemed comforted by my stories, pondering the inevitable fate of becoming a widow. She had experienced similar things, telling me about seeing her father’s shadowy figure appearing at the foot of her bed shortly after he had passed.
Because of this, I knew if her husband appeared to her, it would be a source of comfort. By talking to me, I think she was gearing up as if she was going into training for what was to come.
The day before, Sarah told me that her husband saw an elevator of light beaming from the floor to the ceiling. He had also begun to see familiar faces in the room of his departed family and friends. I told her that these are all signs of his imminent transition. We both agreed that his time was close.
“Yesterday, we told each other how much we loved one another,” she confessed, snipping at my bangs, as her eyes began to water.
I told her how the dead often communicates through electricity, sometimes making lights flicker, or changing radio stations. I shared stories about some of my friends whose deceased husbands would visit them in the middle of the night, often sitting on their beds or comforting them in some ethereal way.
I explained my analogy of what happens when someone dies.
“We are like ice cubes when we are alive,” I began. “Then as we die, we become water, until we fully transition and turn into steam.”
Sarah cocked her head. She seemed to like this explanation, understanding that we are simply shedding our physical armor, our worn-out bodies. Since we are no longer able to function in the physical world, we become something lighter, more mobile, able to transcend the physical plane and navigate as a different form of energy.
And then her phone rang. I knew what was about to happen. It was that phone call, the confirmation.
Her brow knitted slightly hearing the confirmation of his time of death. 10:55.
“OK, I just have to finish up with my customer and then I’ll be home…”
She placed her cell phone on the counter and turned to me.
She tried to hold it together but I could see her crumbling like an old building, reticent to let go of the avalanche inside of her.
I grabbed her and pulled her close, hugging her tightly. She announced to her coworkers that he had passed. A few patted her lightly on the shoulder.
I could tell she was distracted as she hurriedly tried to finish my hair. I knew she was trying to compartmentalize her feelings, a jumble of denial, grief, fear, and panic.
“Do you think he’ll come to visit me?”
“I think he’s here right now. And I think he’ll be in the car with you and with you this evening, guiding you. You’ll see. He’s happy now, and out of pain.”
She smiled and quickly finished my haircut, comforted by our conversation. I knew she was in a hurry to get out of there and face what was ahead. I gave her a healthy tip and my card.
“Please call me if you need to talk to somebody,” I offered.
She took my card, and thanked me, quickly heading out the back door.
Why did I get my hair styled that day? Was I meant to be there when she got that phone call? Maybe I was put there as some sort of a conduit as her husband transitioned to the other side.