Contributions by other people

Nien Schwarz, Australia

Father's Hair

This is my family's story and in particular my mother's.

The comb sits there on the white painted window frame. This is in the upstairs bathroom. Two seasons have come and gone and the comb just sits there - untouched. We can't bring ourselves to touch it. Every time we look in the bathroom mirror or turn on the tap, there is Dad's comb. First thing in the morning and last thing at night-

It isn't so much the comb but the fact that it had been Dad's comb. Wrapped around the teeth of that very plain black plastic comb are a few pathetic black and grey hairs. Dad died of pancreatic cancer at age 53. He had been ill for a year. It had changed his hair. Gone was the beautiful shiny black with glints of chestnut and in came this very fine dull grey hair. But it stayed very soft to the touch. I always loved to stroke his head.

We never talked about his impending death. It just never came up. Of course we all knew he was going to die. Instead, I asked him to draw me a picture of a tall ship and he continued to write his scientific papers until the pain killers took his mind away.

First the early winter snows came. The comb just sat there poised on the ledge always in danger of falling to the floor. But it never did.

We never talked about the comb.

It was awful and beautiful all at once.

The comb with its little black hairs simply sitting there pressed into that impossible space between the glass and its frame. All that winter it shared this space with a delicate flowered frost pattern that kept changing as the temperature and humidity increased or decreased.

And behind this a backdrop of the frozen garden below and towering black pines above.

I chanced upon a seminar about there being no right way to grieve. I had to go as part of my training as a volunteer. The man talked about widows stuffing their deceased husbands underwear into their own drawers and sometimes they were dirty underwear. He talked about people keeping locks of hair, old shoes, or a sweater that retained the smell of the one who had died. I thought about Dad's little black comb and those few hairs against the stark white paint and frosted pane.

I told Mum about there being no right way to grieve. She asked me if I had noticed the comb.

Spring time. We are Dutch and the tulips have come up. I noticed the other day that the comb was gone.