Throughout my career in EMS, I have seen many souls so lost and hurting that they have cut deep gashes in their own flesh. “Cutting,” as it is referred to, is when a person who is distraught cuts their skin as a way to bring relief from the inner pain they are experiencing. These aren’t the people who slash themselves for attention… these cuts are found hidden from the casual glance, carved in layers beneath sleeves and pants. Although I have resolved to not unfairly scrutinize these individuals for this display of mutilation, I can’t say that I’ve necessarily understood it… until my daughter died.
The first day this revelation came to me was about a month after Ellianna was gone. I was getting a tattoo of her sweet baby hands and feet on the inside of my arm. It was one of the most painful tattoos I have aquired. I remember coming home with a swollen and throbbing arm and saying, “it feels strangely good to have some physical pain to represent what I am feeling on the inside.” It was like a small release of the anguish that had been crushing my soul since the day she died.
Months later, I was looking through pictures my sister had taken of me cuddling with Ellianna. My hair was long, finally stretching beneath my shoulders after two years of growing it out. I became overwhelmed with grief looking at those pictures, and the afternoon ended with a pair of scissors in my hand, and my long locks sitting in a pile in the bathroom sink. When I had long hair that I loved, I had my daughter in my arms… no daughter, no hair.
After that wave of emotion passed, I had the task of explaining to my astonished family that in a moment of irrational grief, I had hacked off all my hair. Perplexed as they were, they assured me I looked just as beautiful, although to this day my youngest still asks, “So mom, WHY did you cut off your hair just because you were sad???”
I recently enjoyed reading Mary Beth Chapman’s book Choosing To See. It is the story of her family losing their daughter Maria in a tragic accident, and the life that followed. I came to a part of the book where she talked about coming home to find that her husband, Steven Curtis Chapman, had shaved his full head of hair off over the spot where his daughter had been killed in their driveway. It was then I felt such relief and justification for my hair cutting moment. Reading that such a man of strength and faith had felt the same overwhelming urge to be able to physically express his grief seemed to validate the reason that I had done the same.
While I never see myself drawing blood as a physical relief for inner pain, I have been witness to the craving we have as humans to express the weight of the emotions that churn within us, and have a new understanding to the amount of pain that would draw a person to “cut”…. hair or otherwise.