Toilet Paper And a Silk Sleep Hat


Created by Crystal Cawley of Portland, Maine

Before I could say a word, the hubby said, “Remind you of Grandma?”

“Yes,” I answered softly as memories of my mother came flooding in.

For as long as I can remember, Mother wrapped her hair in toilet paper and covered it with a silk sleep hat every night.  From week to week when she had it washed and set again not a hair moved.  If she could feel the wind blow through her hair she’d fuss that it was making her hair a mess.  Still, not a hair moved, and I don’t remember ever touching her hair as that was an unspoken no.

As time passed and I first married and then had children, this ritual continued and it became a family joke, not because we disapproved but because we found it humorous that Mother’s concern was always about her hair.   It was as if it defined who she was, and maybe it did.

So for years the ritual continued.  Then came the time when I would stop in to visit her after she’d had dinner.  Sometimes she’d be in her gown playing solitaire or what she thought to be solitaire, but more often than not she’d already be in bed asleep despite the early hour.  What was missing was the sleep hat.

For some reason I found that very upsetting.  Her hair fixation was a part of life and seeing it become unkempt caused me to feel a little ungrounded.  I began going over a little earlier to wrap her hair and cover it with the sleep hat.  She’d question why and I’d answer lamely that it was to keep her hair from getting messed up.  She’d respond that it would be OK in the morning after she brushed it.  That didn’t happen.

It was something so simple but so significant that let me know that things were changing at a faster pace than I was prepared for.  I had accepted the diagnosis of dementia, but as long as things continued in a somewhat normal fashion I had no idea what that really meant.  Knowledge came quickly, and as any of you who have dealt with dementia know, the  deteriorating process is emotionally painful.  In her lucid moments, Mother said often, “Sometimes I think I’m losing my mind.”  She was, but right until the end I had her hair done and in the few hours that it stayed nice, I could pretend that things were as they always had been.

Today is Mother’s birthday, and I hope she doesn’t mind that I have shared this little story.  Her years of protecting her hair with toilet paper and a silk sleep hat are an endearing memory.  Who knows, one of these days I may take up the habit!

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

25 thoughts on “Toilet Paper And a Silk Sleep Hat

  1. A very touching story about your mother. I always envy your hair when I see photos of you. Perfectly styled and never a hair out of place, but also naturally casual.

  2. Fred needs a silk sleep hat!
    (no toilet paper please).
    In the words of “Trout Fishing in America”
    ‘His hair had a party last night’ every night!

  3. What a very loving tribute to your Mother, Linda. I know she is wearing that silk sleep hat in heaven and thinking of you.

  4. So moving and while my mother never cared about her looks or hair, I can so identify with my denial of dementia in my wonderful, brave mother

  5. Linda, this is such a lovely and poignant story. My Mother always slept on a silk pillowcase because she said it didn’t mess up her hair. She had her set every Friday morning at 9 am!

  6. My MIL used to do her own hair with sponge rollers and sit under a hat dryer in her kitchen. She also did her own color and to this day we all smile about the memories of her “salon” days and how we never knew what color her hair was going to be! Your sweet sad story brought lots of memories back, thank you Linda,
    Jenna

  7. What a beautiful story. My grandmother is still living and vibrant at the age of 93 and she puts pin curls in her hair. I remember watching her as a child putting them in and thinking how can that help keep that little bit of hair in place. I can relate to your story, if she ever stops of feeling a sense of loss of normalcy. Tina

  8. Oh…it is so nice, so family, warm memories. When i red your story i remembered my grandma. She had long white hair and she liked to comb it with wood comb. She split it and roll in a bun with some hairpins. I adored the moments, when she washed her hair and I asked her to comb it. I did it very slowly, because in this time we spoke slowly, she told me her memories and i listened her with all my heart. She felt very comfortable and we were together somehow – a whole. I love it very much and miss her. 30 years from her away…

  9. Beautiful story that I relate to in two ways. My mother did the same ritual and it did work.I lost her at age 33 from cancer. My MIL,91, currently has Alzheimers and it is extremely sad. We are going to visit her this morning and it is very hard. We miss her so much because she can not communicate. Our hope is we find her content.
    I understand missing your mother. I think she would be pleased you shared her story.

    • I wonder. If the toilet paper thing was common to our mothers era. The visits to your MIL are sad, and when the time comes for her to pass away, it will be a blessing.

  10. Thank you for this very touching story. My Mother also had her hair done once a week and it was a wonderful head of hear but it simply never moved and she put some sort of hat thing on it at night. She finally gave that up and stopped coloring her hair. But she still had wonderful grey, thick hair till she died. I had forgotten about her hair hat until I read your lovely story. Nice memory.

  11. What a beautiful story about your mother. It is funny how certain things become strong connections to the past for us. My grandmother always complained about her dry elbows and to this day I always think of her when I put on lotion. It makes me smile. I have many other amazing memories of her but that one has really stayed with me.

  12. Linda, you brought tears to my eyes and heart. Such a nice story. I miss sharing these with you! Glad to have your blog!

  13. Oh I can see how she loved having her hair just right…as I am sure it was as beautiful as yours. Loved this story….Maybe the toilet paper acts somewhat like tissue paper when we sometimes use it when we pack our clothes…. I shall define this as a love story….you making sure that the thing she loved the most about her appearance was taken care of when she could not.

  14. Lulu,
    A poignant story, uplifting in the time spent together and remembering it on one hand and difficult because it remind you that those times have gone.

    I have no idea how toilet paper would help your hair, but have heard that apparently silk pillows help your hair tangle far less than cotton ones. I don’t have any silk pillows myself, but this reminds me that with my long, fine hair, they might be an excellent idea.

    My Grandmother lived until four months before her 100th birthday and was crystal clear in her thoughts until the last three days of her life. Unfortunately, whilst her experience is one we all hope for, many are not so lucky, with dementia robbing them of their memories, personalities and in the end, seemingly every part of their very being.

    As medical advances defeat or reduce diseases in the population from infancy onwards, more of us can expect to live even decade(s) longer than our parents and grandparents. Dementia is exposed as the thin edge of this wedge and until new medical breakthroughs are found, it is a disease that is painful for many families.

    I wish you, and anyone who has dementia in their family, much strength. It’s a cruel disease to have or have your loved ones have.

    • Such a thoughtful comment from you and I do appreciate it. Dementia is an unwelcome guest that takes its toll emotionally. Your grandmother was one of the lucky ones.

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