Of Braids and Grace

She was my little girl.

On school mornings, I would comb her brown hair into two pigtails before school, and she always had an opinion. She would feel them gingerly, then hold up her thumb and forefinger and measure from her ear to the braid, then carefully holding the space between her fingers, check the distance from her other ear to the other braid to see if they were the same distance apart. Because I knew that this was going to happen, I would try hard to make sure that they were as even as possible. If they weren’t, she would tug and tug at the one that wasn’t right so that it would be a bit more compliant. I would secretly look at the result and think that the offending braid wasn’t actually moved that much, but it was the principle of the thing! At least she felt better about it.

There came a time, as a fifth grader that she wanted to go to New York City with her Grandpa and Grandma Yoder and decided that she would learn to comb her own hair. She didn’t want to have something as simple as needing someone to comb her hair to prevent her from having an adventure, and though she knew her Grandma would do it, she did not want to have to rely on anyone. And so, she learned.

The years passed. My girlie grew up. She graduated from high school, went to Bible school, went to Bangladesh, and from there set out to travel the world, taking any excuse to go on yet another excursion, independent, brave, and strong. She became an RN, and took a job as a hospice nurse which she has held for over 11 years. She made friends that were loyal, loved the many children in her life, bought land, built a house, loved her church and neighborhood and family with intent and abandon. She grieved the losses of things that mattered to her, and she laid aside her dreams of marriage and children without rancor or bitterness or resentment, though she sometimes cried when choosing what she knew was right over compromise.

She is still my girlie, though she is an adult.

These last weeks have been hard for her. There was the sudden diagnosis of breast cancer, and almost as suddenly, a double mastectomy. She had never been hospitalized, much less had even minor surgery, and the anesthesia and pain meds had a debilitating effect upon her. When she finally got awake enough to realize that she was the only patient left in recovery and that the nurses were staying late because of her, she forced herself to sit up, and then instructed those responsible to get her dressed and get her out of there. She came home nauseated and teary and in so much pain. Somehow the hospital messed up and didn’t get her prescriptions called in as they said they would and there was an anguished gap in some much needed meds. But we made it with some desperate, pleading prayers (with the help of some close, professional friends). The next five days were pretty much as expected but then came the nagging pain in the leg, then the shortness of breath, and then the diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis in the leg and pulmonary emboli in both lungs. This time she got admitted to the hospital, and spent two long days trying to find answers, solutions and resolution. It was a holiday weekend, and although her caregivers tried hard, the hospital was understaffed, orders got overlooked and the days were long. It was a huge relief to her to finally come home on Tuesday night to her house, her cat and the familiar.

One of the things that she is not allowed to do is comb her hair. It is hard for her to accept. Her bout with Covid caused her hair to thin, and just when it seemed like things were starting to replenish a bit, she got hit with this surgery and it’s falling out at an alarming rate. There is really nothing she can do about it, and even if there was, she couldn’t do it for herself.

So once again, this Mama is combing her girlie’s hair. I pull the brush as gently as I can through the thin tresses and then I braid it in one lone braid down the back. She never moves to measure distance, but I look at the braid and it isn’t straight. I wonder what she’s thinking. I resist the urge to try to tug it a bit to the right and say, “I don’t know, Deborie-girl. It’s not very straight . . . “

“I know,” she says, matter of factly. And then, as she has said a hundred times over these last two weeks, “It doesn’t matter. It’s fine. Thank you, Mama.” My eyes burn with sudden tears because I know that behind those quiet words is another decision. It does matter. I know it does. But she has decided that anything someone does for her is going to be considered a gift, and she is not going to complain. I pick up the brush and carry it to the bathroom and put it away. I think about courage and strength and love and hard decisions. I think about how hard this could be for us all, including Deborah, if she gave in to the preferences that sit firmly in her OCD’d brain and thank God for Grace extended – to us through her, and to her, through the One who gave her to us in the first place.

You know, It’s a pretty special thing to be able to comb my girlie’s hair. I am glad for this opportunity. I’m so thankful that I can walk this journey with an adult daughter, and have the opportunity to help in any way that I can, even if I don’t always get it right. And I’m glad that she isn’t measuring the distance from her braid to her ear. I would really come up short.

For this, and so much more, my heart gives grateful praise.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Of Braids and Grace

  1. I don’t know what to say except I felt all of this.

  2. Fonda Swartzentruber

    Oh my heart was heavy and tears ran as I read this. Prayers for all.

  3. Sharon Yoder kline

    Oh Mary Ann praying for you and your Deborah. This story resonates deeply in my heart with my daughter.

  4. Dale Keffer

    I read this with tears in my eyes, Mary Ann. My heart goes out to all of you and especially Deborah. She is everything you have described and more. I am privileged to be able to call her my friend and there can be no doubt that all of you have impacted my life in so many wonderful ways. I pray for Deborah every day as she walks through this time in her life.

  5. Natalie

    Dear Mrs. Mary Ann,
    I am praying for you and your daughter. The way Deborah is accepting this is very very encouraging!! May our dear Lord be with you all in this difficult season.

  6. Joyce Yoder

    Heart tugging and tears as I read…tough times at hand, yet still, God is there and good…praying for strength and healing…

  7. My God and my Lord… have mercy. This is what Love looks like. Thank you.

  8. lhilty1

    Mary Ann, for whatever reason I’ve not been seeing any posts, emails, etc. from you & have been missing you very much. Just now I saw that your Deborah is having health problems. Maybe we’re not even friends on fb anymore? Hopefully, we can reconnect. I’ve always enjoyed your writings. Loving prayers & best wishes to each of your family, especially during Deborah’s difficult time now ~ Lois Hilty

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