33: My Mother’s Wig

33: My Mother’s Wig

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

My Mother’s Wig

Red is the ultimate cure for sadness.

~Bill Blass

My mother has taken to wearing a wig. Not just any wig. Not even a wig that suits her. Oh no, my mother’s wig is shocking in every respect. It’s bright red, with burnt orange streaks. It couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than a wig. No one looking at such a frail old lady could ever believe she was meant to have hair that color, not even if she were fifty years younger.

The first time I saw it on her, I cringed with embarrassment. How could she? How could she wear something so false and not realize she looked stupid? She might be getting old, but she is far from senile. She’s still as sharp as a tack, my mother. So why wear something so dreadful?

My dad bought her a different wig. One closer to the soft brown color her hair used to be when she still had hair. She wears that one to please my dad if they go out somewhere together. At home, she doesn’t bother wearing either of them, but for hospital appointments, on goes the red monstrosity.

I sat with her once while she was having chemotherapy. Her skin, almost white and wrinkled like parchment, made the red stand out even more. The nurses took no notice of her red mop; neither did the regulars who called out their greetings across the chemo ward. But newcomers, fear etched on their faces, looked around, saw the wig (how could they miss it?) and whispered comments to their companions. Smirks replaced stricken expressions—for a moment or two, at least.

Eventually I had to ask. “Why did you choose that color, Mum?”

“I’ve always wanted to be a redhead,” she answered, but I knew that wasn’t the real reason. I could hear in her voice that there was more to it, so I waited.

We don’t often talk. Not proper talking like many mothers and daughters. We’re so different and yet so much alike. Sometimes we meet on the same planet, but it’s rare. I love her, I know she loves me, but most of the time we can’t communicate.

However, every so often we come together at the right time and she’ll tell me something, or I’ll open up to her. Maybe once every ten blue moons we have a moment of truth. On that day in the chemotherapy ward, out of the corner of my eye, a bright blue moon sailed into view.

Mum turned to me. “Standing in the corner over there is death. He’s following me around and in this place he reminds me he’s waiting.” She smiled, but it was an effort. “I am not going to give in to him. If he wants me, then he has to fight for me and I’m not going anywhere. Not yet.”

She broke off as another regular came in. “All right, Myra?” Mum called over. “How’s your grandson?”

Mum carried on a conversation until the woman called Myra was hooked up to her drip and then she turned back to me.

“Sometimes I get scared. I know the doctors say I haven’t got long to go, but I’m not ready to die yet. I’m fighting this the only way I know how. I’m not clever with words like you, but I feel better if I wear the red wig on chemo days. I don’t know how to explain it, but it helps me fight death. It’s my way of telling him to get lost.”

As we were leaving, she made the rounds of every patient. She knew their names, their condition, family details. She knew who lived alone, who was scared, who was doing well. I could see on their faces that she’d made them feel better. This sick old woman with her ridiculously bright red hair made each and every one of them smile.

She’s dying, my mum. When she’s gone, and it won’t be long now, the only thing I want to remember her by is that red wig. Red for courage, red for defiance, and red for vitality—the vitality she showed right up till the end.

~Lorraine Mace

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