Berry Mauve, or Muted Wine?

by | Jun 10, 1998 | Comfort, Marriage

He found me weeping bitterly in the hospital room.

“What’s wrong?” Richard asked, knowing we both had reason to cry. In the past 48 hours, I had discovered the lump in my breast was cancerous; the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes; and there was a possible spot on my brain.

I was 32 years old and the mother of three beautiful children.

Richard pulled me tight and tried to comfort me. Many had expressed amazement at the peace that had overwhelmed me from the beginning. God was my comfort the moment before I found out I had cancer, and he remained the same after. But it seemed to Richard that all that had crashed in the few moments he had been out of the room. He held me tight.

“It’s all been too much, hasn’t it, Suz?” He said.

“That’s not it,” I cried and held up the hand mirror I had found in the drawer. Richard was puzzled. “I didn’t know it was like this,” I cried.

I had found the mirror in the night stand and was shocked at my reflection. I didn’t even recognize myself. After the surgery, I groaned in my sleep and well-meaning friends had freely pushed the self-dispensing medication to ease what they thought was pain. Unfortunately I was allergic to morphine and had swelled like a sausage. Betadine from the surgery stained my neck, shoulder and chest and it was too soon for a bath. A tube hung out of my side draining the fluid from the surgical site. My left shoulder and chest was wrapped tightly in gauze where I had lost a portion of my breast. My long, curly hair was matted into one big wad.

What hit me the hardest was that over 100 people had come to see me over the past 48 hours and they had all seen this brown and white, swollen, makeup-less, matted-haired, grey-gowned woman that used to be me. Where had I gone?

Richard left the room. Within moments he came back, his arms laden with small bottles. He pulled pillows out of the closet and dragged a chair over to the sink. He unravelled my IV and tucked the long tube from my side in his shirt pocket. He reached down and picked me up and he scooted the IV stand with one foot as he carried me over to the chair. As he sat me down gently on his lap, he cradled my head in his arms over the sink and began to run warm water through my hair. He poured the small bottles he had confiscated from the cart in the hall over my hair and washed and conditioned my long curls. He wrapped my hair in a towel and he carried me, the tube, and IV stand back over to the bed. All of this done so gently that not one stitch was disturbed.

My husband, who has never blow-dried his thick dark hair in his life, took out the blow drier and dried my hair, the whole while entertaining me as he pretended to give beauty tips. He then proceeded, with the experience of watching me for the past 12 years, to fix my hair. I laughed as he bit his lip, more serious than any beauty school student. He bathed my shoulder and neck with a warm washcloth, careful to not disturb the area around the surgery and rubbed lotion into my skin. Then he opened my makeup bag and began to apply makeup. I will never forget the laughter we shared as he tried to apply my mascara and blush. I opened my eyes wide and held my breath as his hands shook as he brushed the mascara on my lashes. He rubbed my cheeks with tissue to blend in the blush.

With the last touch, he held up two lipsticks. “Which one? Berry mauve or muted wine?” He asked.

He applied the lipstick like an artist painting on a canvas and then held the little mirror in front of me.

I was human again. A little swollen, but I smelled clean, my hair hung softly over my shoulders and I recognized who I was.

“What do you think?” He asked. I began to cry again, this time because I was grateful.

“No, baby. You’ll mess up my makeup job,” he said and then I burst into laughter.

During that difficult time in our lives, I was given only a 10-40% chance of survival over five years.

That was nine years ago.

I made it through those years with laughter, with God’s comfort, and with the help of a man brought into my life named Richard. We will celebrate our 21st anniversary this year with our three children — our twins, who are 17, and our 18 year old daughter. Richard understood what others might have taken for vanity in the midst of tragedy. Everything I had ever taken for granted had been shaken in those hours — the fact that I would watch my children grow, my health, my future. With one small act of kindness, Richard gave me normalcy. I will always see that moment as one of the kindest gestures of our marriage.

Author unknown. If anyone has a proprietary interest in this story please authenticate and I will be happy to credit, or remove, as the circumstances dictate.

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Berry Mauve, or Muted Wine?