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!

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