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Monday, September 07, 2009

No greater love

First of all, you should know that I have Ms. Conory's permission to print this picture of her - and, tell this story.

It was taken late this afternoon at the local community pool where we had gathered for one last neighborhood Labor Day party before the pool closes for the season.

Next, you should know that this is part of why I've loved her for the last 33 years.

For those of you who don't know, Ms. Conroy lost her hair almost three years ago due to "Alopecia areata" which, for her, came about as part of a form of an auto immune disease.

Her mother and grandmother had it. Her son developed it when he was six years old.

When she first started to lose her hair, it was devastating. Simply devastating. I can't begin to imagine what it was like for her, and I walked every step of the way - every lost strand of hair - with her. I wrote about it here, in February, 2007.

It's been a pretty rough go, with bouts of depression that were simply awful, but you know, something happened when she got the wig that was made from the hair grown by six of us at St. Paul's that was transformational.

We call it "The Love Wig." It looks fabulous on her. If you didn't know her, you'd think it was her own hair. I suspect that, putting that much love on your head every morning can be amazingly healing.

Ironically, shortly after she got the wig, she started appearing, more and more, without it. Oh, she LOVES it and wears it to work and to church, but other than that, she just wears a baseball cap around town. She is usually bald around the house.

I don't know what it was, but something about having that "Love Wig" freed her to be without hair.

Last winter, when I would look up into the choir loft - which can get Very Hot - I would discover that she had pulled off her wig. What was really amazing to me was that, if anyone in the choir was fazed by it, they certainly didn't show it.

Truth be told, it is a bit startling when you first see her totally bald head, but then, Ms. Conroy's total acceptance of herself provides a place where others can find their own acceptance.

It's a fascinating process to watch.

One of the mothers of one of the little girls in this picture was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She is scheduled to have a 'port-a-cath' surgically inserted tomorrow so she can begin 18 weeks of chemo, followed by 6 weeks of radiation.

Her parents have been preparing her for the loss of her mother's hair, so she and her little friend were especially curious about Ms. Conroy's hair loss.

She has known Ms. Conroy all of the five years of her life; the other one has come to know Ms. Conroy at the pool this summer. They know what she looks like when she wears the wig as well as when she doesn't and just has on a baseball cap. But, they've never seen her bald.

One of them asked if Ms. Conroy would take off her hat so she could see what "bald" looked like. "Sure," said Ms. Conroy, and flipped off her hat right then and there.

The two little girls giggled nervously, as if they - or she, they weren't exactly sure - had done something wrong.

One of the girls stared directly at Ms. Conroy's breasts and then asked, hesitantly, "But, you are a girl, aren't you?"

"She's a LADY," said the other, I suppose out of deference to Ms. Conroy's age.

"Yes," said Ms. Conroy, "That's right. I'm a lady."

The little girl looked a bit confused for a second - the adults later jokingly referred to this as a 'transgender moment' - and then declared, "Then you should have hair! I know! We'll draw you some hair!"

Off they went to collect their box of sidewalk chalk. Before we knew it, both girls were very busy drawing pink, green and yellow curls in chalk on Ms. Conroy's head.

You can't see it, but it was really quite magnificent. A virtual labor of love. In the giving and in the receiving.

The child's mother who will soon be bald herself was deeply, deeply grateful, knowing that this will make it so much easier for her young daughter to accept her mother's eventual baldness.

We were clear that she understood that her mother's hair loss was not permanent, unlike Ms. Conroy's. "That's, okay," said the child. "I'll can still give her chalk hair."

Jesus said, "No greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

I suspect, if Jesus came back as a woman with Alopecia areata, s/he might say, "No greater love has a woman than this, that she lay down her bald head for her friends."

And, it would be so.


the cajun said...

Oh, I love this so.

Ms. Conroy has the backup, can be who she is and continue to educate others while being healed in many ways. Offering ourselves up as examples can be transitional. As we all know.

Give her a big hug for me.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

God bless you both, and God bless both your abilities to see that real, pure, and holy love that physical imperfections only enhance, if you're the right kind of people. These kind of people also happen to be my favorite kind of people--the kind who see angels with muddy feet. (wink.)

...and now I know why I have felt you secretly smile across cyberspace many times when I go on about "I'm gray, and I'm not about to cover a damn hair of it!"

Elisabeth said...

Gotta love her! She's some kinda special. Then again you both are.

Pat Klemme said...

I am remembering my sweetie's 'do-rags' that graced her head in public. She never sat on a motorcycle as far as I know, but the riders' style appealed to her (and me) more than wigs. She looked go-o-o-od! And so does Ms. Conroy! It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since she died. The good times always feel close, and the hard times recede. What a blessing! Please tell Ms. Conroy thanks for the happy memories.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I sure will, Cajun. Hey, BTW, great baseball cap. You covering up anything under there by any chance? ;~)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, you know, Kirke, that angels with muddy feet are my favorite kind. Both you and Ms. Conroy got 'em. Big time.

Enjoy your gray hair. It's wonderful.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Lis. Thanks, but shouldn't you be unpacking a box or something? Can't wait for the housewarming.

Anonymous said...

Powerful story of love, courage and freedom. Go Miz Conroy and your two small artist friends. God has blessed you all richly.

Fran said...

Oh my - wow, what an amazing post.

Oh my - what an amazing woman is more like it! I am sitting here crying yet feeling the triumph of Ms. Conroy's humanity through and through.

I am also thinking of Kirkespicatoid's post about resurrection that I read a short while ago, which left me speechless. This is the connection that helps me find the words.

God bless you and Ms. Conroy. God bless those kids. God bless us all.

This is life and having it to the full.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Pat. I'll make sure to let Ms. Conroy know. I'm glad you still feel the presence of your beloved's love, even after 10 years. Gives us all hope and speaks volumes about the strength of your love.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

preacher1 - I just couldn't NOT tell this story. Ms. Conory didn't hesitate a milisecond when I asked if I could reprint her picture.

Elaine C. said...

thanks for the happy tears from reading this -- quite a blessing -- by being fully what we are -- we enrich and strengthen one another

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Fran, well, and now you know how blessed I've been for 33 years. And, they said it wouldn't last . . . .

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

ElaineC - you got that right.

IT said...

What a wonderful, WONDERFUL story. Courageous Ms Conroy, loving children, wonderfully supportive spouse (that would be YOU, Elizabeth).

Ain't marriage grand!

As for the grey, my point of view is: I've earned every strand of it!

Kay & Sarah said...

Love is so freeing. We can expose so much of who we are when the love is this great.

You are two wonderful ladies!!

IT said...

BTW Elizabeth, BP and I agree, this is another installment in the book you should write of everyday sermons/everyday parables/everyday wisdom. I read this aloud to her and you had us BOTH laughing and crying at the same time. Vast hugs to you and Ms Conroy! And to the little girls who gave pink and green and yellow chalk curls to Ms C.

BP says she is particularly feeling the loss of those little pearls of childhood wisdom, on account of the teenagers have finally moved out. From the mouths of babes, etc!

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I'm with Fran--you made me cry.

THIS is what love looks like. THIS is what marriage really is---or should be.

God bless you both.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm heading out to the office to "hit the ground running" so just a quick note to thank you all for your kind comments.

You know, I just zipped this off because I knew that it was a story that was dying to be told. I'm deeply flattered about the idea of a book, IT, but good Lord, it needs LOTS of spit and polish before it might ever be printed. I'll think about it.

I did add a little note - just to be clear - that Ms. Conroy also gave me permission to tell the story. She's pretty amazing, right? Yeah, I'm pretty lucky to have spent 33 years with my best friend.

Married? Not yet. Not "legally" Not in NJ. I guess we have to "practice" a bit more as "practicing homosexuals" until we get it "right" - and then it will never be "right" for the "Right".

Sigh. They're loss.

Off I go, then.

Jim said...


What an amazing story. Thanks to both of you for sharing it. Ms. Conroy is an amazing woman.


Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, Thanks for the amazing story. Not much left to say except to add an "amen" to what the others have said.

Blessings to both of you!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, if practice makes perfect, you two are damn near there, if you aren't there already.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Whitey. You know, Kirke, I think it may well be that 'damned near perfection' that scares the hell out of the Lunatic Fringe.

IT said...


You and Ms C. are married in every sense that really matters. 33 years together in loving partnership? What else would you, can you call it?

The piece of state-stamped paper is a legal document: one that is worth fighting for, of course, in the interests of full and equal and fair citizenship, but one that doesn't begin to represent what marriage REALLY means! That's what the wingers don't understand.

They may try to deprive us of the name, but they cannot destroy the meaning.

it's margaret said...

Y'all are wonderful.

Got no more words than that.

I thank God for your lives together and your witness to love.

Caminante said...

I will share this story with a current canser (misspelling intentional) contender who is bald and will keep it in my back pocket for future times... chalk it up to a fabulous tale. Blessings for both of you.

Grace said...

Mother Kaeton,

What a blessing you, and Ms. Conroy are to each other, and to the church!!

Thanks to both of your for sharing this story.

Hugs especially to ((Ms. Conroy.))