From Loss Comes an Unexpected Benefit I Couldn’t See

By Judy Brunelli, Polidori’s Salon, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

It was a Sunday afternoon in mid-December last year. I was fighting a sinus headache while pondering the battles my friend fought while styling her wig for the first and last time. She passed away the previous Friday. We met more than seven years ago.

The day Barbara came into my studio, she had learned her cancer had returned. Not only that, but she had received her port and the first round of chemo the same day. In more than 30 years of working with cancer patients, this was a first. One thing I have learned about this disease is that the faster the treatment begins the worse the diagnosis usually is. She had long, rich, naturally brown hair. Her son was getting married in a few months and she wanted to be sure she had beautiful hair for the event. She was not frightened like many women I’d met in less pressing circumstances. 

And then she started teaching me some valuable life lessons.

How to deal with loss: She had hope and that hope was deeper than her hair. She wanted to live another day and see her son get married. She also wanted to have a  human hair wig that was at least 12 inches long, made with her own hair as she was going to lose it through chemo. This complicated things because the amount of hair needed for this specific wig’s length and volume would require more than she had. She would need to find donors. Not only was this an unusual request, but it was also costly as well. 

Barb and husband Earl at her son’s wedding in September 2016

Faith in the fire: She had a deep religious faith and belief things would work out in her favor. And it did. A man she worked for was willing to cover the $1,700 cost of the wig. I had no leads at that time on such an item, but we struck up such a friendship that I wanted to be a part of her journey.

Enjoy the miracles along the way: Not only did she need money for the wig, but she needed lots of hair. Years ago, I worked with sewn hair extensions. When you would order a bundle of 3 ounces of hair, it would stretch about 20 feet when unrolled.

Hair donors with Barb in the middle.

She needed 8 ounces of hair to make the wig. Wig makers need 3 inches of extra length, besides the length of the finished product, for sewing purposes. It ended up that she had four women at her church with long dark hair as well who were willing to give her their locks. This means the wig would not need to be colored and would be made of virgin hair. I would have loved to be part of the haircutting party, but I was out of the country. They didn’t collect 8 ounces. They got 11 ounces!

Give generously: Barb poured out her life like a fountain of continuous life-giving milk. She volunteered with children teaching Bible lessons over the years. I caught up with her after her son’s wedding. Not only did she have a fine wig for the wedding but it arrived in time for another special event. And because they collected 3 ounces extra, her hair went to good use for another wig.

Perseverance: During the next five years I received regular emails updates regarding Barb’s journey. She would occasionally stop by my salon and we would catch up. She was always wearing her beautiful wig. Typically human hair wigs last up to two years, but hers was lasting longer.

Eleven ounces of donated hair being weighed.

Grace: Just about a year ago, my husband was invited to visit a nearby church. I wore my cutest wig that was tapered short in the back with long chin-length curly tendrils in the front. As we entered the church, I felt a little uncomfortable as most of the ladies had long hair and wore head coverings. I was a little surprised when I noticed Barb in the front. She smiled and winked at me. Her grace and loving acceptance of me made me feel welcomed and loved even though I looked a bit different. Grace is fixing someone else’s crown, without telling them it’s crooked. Barb fixed my crown.

As I held her wig in my hand that December day, I was flushed with emotion and grateful for her friendship.

Discipline: When Barb passed her husband contacted me and asked if I could style her wig for the funeral. When I received the wig, there was hairspray build-up in it. Some hair sprays contain plastic polymers in them. These do not rinse out of the hair. and you need to be extra careful with delicate human hair wigs. And remember she wore this wig for at least six years. 

After using cool, running water and a specific shampoo for human hair wigs followed by gently reconditioning the hair to maintain integrity, I made a discovery. As I unwrapped the towel and secured the wig to the mannequin, the residue was now flaky, whitish in color and still stuck. I needed to rewash the wig, as well as pray for courage and wisdom. This was a challenge I hadn’t faced before and since it was Sunday afternoon and my head was splitting I was going to take a nap.  I formulated a concoction of baking soda and my favorite gentle, deep cleansing shampoo, made a paste, and left it to marinade in the hair. I stepped away. 

Stepping away and mentally regrouping is powerful in a challenge. This was when I thought about Barb’s endless perseverance and her never-give-up attitude. The last thing I needed was for this wig to come apart. I remembered receiving emails from Barb over the years about the many challenges she and her husband faced in addition to her cancer.  Yet they always pressed on and asked for spiritual guidance on their journey as well as health.

When I returned, rinsed the hair, and reconditioned it, I was thrilled and relieved to see that it worked. I would much rather cut and style hair than tediously take tiny sections of hair to detangle and style, but remembering what a disciplined woman Barb was gave me the encouragement to go the extra mile. My husband entered the room in the nick of time to help rescue me to hold the ponytail in place while I wrangled the large barrette in place. It was an honor to both know her as well as run my hands through her hair that day. The wig looked amazing and the family was very happy.