Hours after my daughter’s death I needed to cut my hair. It was some sort of unexplainable urge. I was actually wandering through the airport on the way home from South America looking for scissors. I think this shows you where my head was at. Of course you couldn’t find scissors at the duty-free store but I was intent to ask. I even asked if they had some behind the counter. I am pretty sure they thought I was deranged or drunk. I was on my first medical mission trip when I got the news of my daughter’s death. It has caused my some emotional anxiety but thankfully my daughter had told me how proud she was of me and how she had wanted to go on the trip next year and this eases the insane guilt to some extent.
My hair was down to my waist when I went to Peru but I cut it above my shoulders with kitchen sheers the day I came home. I attribute this to the intense grief. I somehow relate this to the description in biblical times when they shaved their heads and wore sackcloth, or at least that is how I felt. Ezekiel 27:31 “They will shave their heads in grief for you and dress themselves in burlap. They will weep for you with biter anguish and deep mourning.”
Along with cutting my hair, I had the desire to get a tattoo with her name and a purple rose. One reason for that deep desire was that tattoos were a sore spot between us. I had wanted her to think about having something on her body for the rest of her life. I would tell her to look at it as a drawing on her wall for 6 months. I would rant about how your brain isn’t fully developed until after you are 21 to make permanent decisions. I would ask her to talk to me about permanent decisions before she made them. I don’t regret the advice, I just wish it hadn’t been something that ever came between us. Purple was her color she wore when she was little. She had purple bear that went everywhere and lots of purple velour jump suits that she would twin with her sister in. In was then my desire to get a tattoo of her name in my handwriting, the name I would write hundreds of times while I was pregnant with her, I hurriedly took a picture of a purple rose on one of the girls jewelry boxes. (I later learned it was her jewelry box.) I ran out the door to meet the tattoo artist that did all the tattoos on my daughter’s friends arms. They looked like framed artwork so I figured he was the best person to call for a grief ladened impulsive tattoo.
Nate agreed to meet me with a quick text from me asking if he was free for a tattoo. When I walked into Nate’s empty studio he informed me that he was and usually is always booked for weeks in advance. He only took my text because for some reason he was completely locked out of his iPad and iTunes account and figured since he had cleared his schedule to deal with it, he would talk with me about what I wanted while he was waiting on hold with Apple support.
I spent hours at the studio talking with Nate. I am sure I would not have talked to him about all that I had recently gone through with the death of my daughter if the studio hadn’t been empty. I wouldn’t have talked with him from the heart, this complete stranger, if he hadn’t been sitting there for hours on hold with Apple while he drew and then tattooed my shoulder. I showed him a picture of my beautiful daughter. She was somewhere around his age. I left the shop feeling a little like I had tattoo therapy? Is that a thing? I told him I had a twenty year old tattoo that I wanted to cover with something else and I would call him when I was ready to cover it.
A few weeks later Nate checked in on me. He wondered if I had thought about covering up the old tattoo and honestly he was probably checking in on me. I sent him different types of art. Crosses, ravens and roses were sent back and forth. (The reasons for all of that artwork is a subject for another posting). He asked if I wanted to come in so he could get a better look at my old tattoo and draw something up that would work. I made an appointment to come in when he again had nothing going on so we could talk about my cover up tattoo.
Nate came running in, slightly flushed with a book in hand. Slightly flushed from the Portland chilly spring air. He took one look at me and said, “Can I tell you an interesting story?” I said sure. He ran over and sloshed a k-cup of coffee and hot water together in a mug, plopped down in a stool across from me and said, “ok, I wasn’t sure if I should tell you this story, but here goes.”
He said a couple of weeks after I came in, his friend called him after work while he was walking to a party. He was pumped to go to this party. It had multiple DJs, lots of potential clients, food, drinks and everything that made a party worth going to. His friend on the phone went on to tell him she wasn’t feeling well. She was feeling depressed and had been feeling that way for a while. His steps slowed, still moving towards the party he had a decision to make. Do I move on to the party, tell her something to make her feel ok and maybe call her back in the morning. He thoughts came back to the middle-aged women crying in his empty studio and he turned with his phone in hand towards home.
Nate continued to talk to her all night. He listened to her all night long as she cried and spoke about all and anything that came to her mind. They stayed on the phone all night until the early hours of the morning they both fell asleep. The next morning, tired and worse for ware than if he had gone to an all night party, he rushed into his studio to grab his equipment. He was already late heading off to Salem for a tattoo event. Like all good Oregonians he begrudgingly headed towards the public train station. Carrying all his equipment and a book to read on the train and mad at himself for being late he kicked a rustling paper at his feet at the train station, but being a good Portland steward he picked it up.
Laying in his hand was the obituary of my daughter. The picture he had seen of her, the heartfelt words I had written about her, and my hope to help others with depression with the link to the suicide prevention foundation. Nate quickly called his friend. She thanked him profusely for spending the night on the phone, she promised she was seeking help and she quietly confessed that had he not stayed on the phone with him she had planned on taking her life. Nate told her of my daughter’s picture and my story and how he was led to help her. Nate carried the obituary in the book he had been reading that day, a book about suicide and its devistation. When Nate told me the story, all I could do is give him a squeeze and say thank you. He showed me the picture in the book that he now carried around with him. Thank you Nate for sharing your story and for hearing mine.