Chin Hairs and Other Glories

At some point in a woman’s life, she is beset by chin hairs. It’s a humbling, repulsive and I can’t believe this is happening to me moment when, while applying makeup in the magnifying mirror, you sight one of those ***ers. Personally, attending to their occasional visits becomes part of the morning grooming ritual that’s a far cry from the old moisturizer/mascara and a dot of concealer that used to be the mainstay of the five minute check in with my face.

It never made sense to me, that as all the hormones are leaking out of the body post menopause, such a masculine totem arrives. It’s not like testosterone replaces the estrogen, or does it?  When I researched the question, I found  that when the female hormones are abandoning their hostess, little testosterone entities visit.

Supposedly, one of the markers of the amount of chin hairs one can expect is genetics. That’s a tough one for me as my mother, when in her eighties, began sporting all kinds of things on her chin. She was a beautiful, perfectly groomed woman her entire life so it was my job, even though she didn’t see the hairs or was aware they were there, to remove them as best I could.  It was important to me to honor who she was before I lost her – at least lost her essence. I bought her clothes I knew she would have chosen and worn, made sure her hair and nails were done once a week and smoothed lotion on her face and hands when I visited. Those tasks were as important than managing her bills or making sure her care was the best she could receive.

My mother’s aging, particularly late in life, wasn’t just marked by an increase in chin hairs. She had dementia. Her husband was gone.  Friends had abandoned her with a ‘There, but for the grace of God’ mentality so she wasn’t just alone, she was lonely.  Living on the nursing floor of a very nice facility with additional companionship besides my several times a week visits, she just didn’t want to be on earth any more. I could see it in her eyes, feel it with the sighs that filled the many pauses in the conversations I tried to engage her in – even in the occasional intense and wordless looks she would give me, as if she was saying, “I’m a prisoner here, help me escape.”

I hated plucking those chin hairs of hers. It epitomized all the losses she had experienced – her mind, her autonomy, and most importantly, her dignity. This is what I don’t want my daughter to experience with me in ten to fifteen years. The thought that she would be, at some time, attending to my chin hairs fills me with a powerful grief. I don’t want her to feel sorrow about my helplessness. I don’t want her to brush my teeth or smooth my skin with Nivea as I did my mother. I don’t want her to witness my loss of self.

Yet the process of assisting with personal grooming of an aged parent has its purpose. It’s a step, a marker on the checklist – a rite of passage. A look of pity from my daughter as she performed such tasks, if it happens, would be, I imagine, just one more separating emotion for us both. Just as teenagers, in their obnoxiousness, make it easier to release them to a life away from us, what we witness with our parent’s surrender of their life force through decline in health of mental capacity allows us to step away, to move back – to ourselves surrender to the inevitable process of leaving life.

I used to try to mentally and spiritually prepare for those tasks by telling myself that what I was doing was holy – an act of devotion and love. It was, yes, yet I could never convince my spirit to feel anything but the heavy sorrow of loss.

So, though I sigh when I sight the little visitor on my chin some mornings, I remind myself to be grateful that I can still see what needs to be done and attend to the business at hand. No one else need be involved. And just like all the other adjustments that are made in the aging process, this one has its gradations. I’m at the beginning of this particular cycle and I pray my daughter doesn’t have to be beside me at the end. If she is, I hope she is able to better convince herself of the holiness of the process.  She’s a kinder, gentler soul than I so perhaps she will. For now, though, I am in charge of my own chin hairs. Ha. Who thought that would feel like such a coup?

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