“I favored the odor,” says Kathleen Mahony. As a younger lady, she remembers delighting in the wafts of perming answer that may emanate from the salon close to her home. “I’d go in and ask to make use of their cellphone simply so I may go searching. I discovered it so attention-grabbing!”
She requested her mother for a doll whose hair she may brush, however the solely ones she discovered had stiff strands that wouldn’t budge. So as an alternative, Mahony performed with 10-cent dish mops she may comb and minimize into any type she happy. “I assume it was one thing I all the time had in me,” she says of hairdressing.
She began doing it professionally at age 16 and solely put down her shears final yr, at 83, although she nonetheless makes exceptions for shut family members. She speaks fondly of the connections she solid with shoppers over the years, the manner they’d inform her all about their lives, their children, the journeys they went on. “I be taught lots from it,” she says. “So much.”
The most lasting of these classes got here from individuals not in her salon chair, however in a really totally different surroundings: a palliative care centre. For over 30 years, Mahony volunteered in a Montreal hospice, offering haircare for the terminally ailing. A good friend who labored there advised her a few affected person who’d requested her to chop her hair. She couldn’t do it so Mahony supplied to assist.
“One physician advised me, ‘When I’m going in the room after you’ve come by, it’s not the identical girl. You do miracles; you do it higher than I do!’”
“I instantly cherished it,” she says. “I assumed the individuals had been so fantastic. To assume that someone goes to die and is smiling and chatting—it amazed me.” So she began coming in each week, washing and styling hair. Some ladies would additionally ask her to do their make-up or assist them placed on some earrings. “People had been so pleased; they thanked me again and again,” she says. “One physician advised me, ‘When I’m going in the room after you’ve come by, it’s not the identical girl. You do miracles; you do it higher than I do!’”
But to Mahony, what she did was “simply abnormal,” as she places it. “There are so many hospice care staff that do marvellous issues. That’s a lot extra essential than what I used to be doing.”
That’s why she hesitated at first when Lorraine Price, a Montreal-based filmmaker, approached her about doing a documentary about her work. Price had just lately misplaced her grandmother when she got here throughout a small information merchandise about Mahony in an area paper.
“When I learn that, it simply kind of reworked my understanding of end-of-life care,” she says, recalling how arresting it had been to see her grandmother in her final moments. “Her entire life, she’d been a really loud dresser. She wore a lot of costume jewellery and all the time had on brilliant crimson lipstick.” But on that final go to, her grandma’s signature fire-engine hair was now as white as the pillowcase it rested on. Her lips had been pale, her nails naked. “It struck me that she didn’t appear to be the girl I had recognized.”
Price needs there had been somebody like Mahony round to make her grandmother really feel a bit extra like herself as she neared the finish. She shared her story together with her, explaining the sturdy kinship she felt together with her work. “Finally, I gave in,” says the 84-year-old. “She’s such a pleasant lady.”
The movie, merely titled, The Hairdresser, premiered at the 2021 Hot Docs International Film Festival, the place it acquired an honourable point out for Best Canadian Short. It is a glowing tribute to Mahony’s benevolence in addition to an affidavit to the energy of hairdressing. “People are inclined to dismiss it as unimportant, however Kathleen acknowledged the intimacy that comes from that form of an interplay.”
Of course, we regularly hear about individuals sharing non-public particulars about their life with their hairdresser, however to transpose that relationship in the context of terminal sickness brings about an entire new degree of closeness. “People who’re dying aren’t usually touched outdoors of a medical setting—in the event that they’re not being cleaned or propped up or given their medicine,” says Price. “There isn’t that kind of light, caring contact.”
That’s an enormous a part of it. The different is solely making somebody really feel a bit higher about themselves. Mahony skilled that for herself a couple of years in the past when she needed to keep in the hospital following an operation and went per week with out shampooing her hair. “I begged each nurse to clean it and so they all mentioned, ‘No, we don’t have time for that.’ Finally, one nurse mentioned, ‘Okay, after my shift, I’ll keep and I’ll wash your hair’ and I appreciated that very a lot, as a result of when your hair is all oily and folks come to go to you, you don’t need to see anyone. You’re in a nightgown, which doesn’t assist, and also you simply don’t really feel good.”
It comes right down to dignity, one thing each she and Price strongly really feel everybody ought to be entitled to as they face their ultimate days. In that respect, they hope the documentary will change the manner we are inclined to view sickness and dying. “It’s about acknowledging that an individual is a lot greater than who they’re after they’re dying,” says Price, who devoted the movie to her late grandmother. “They lived an entire life–let’s honour that.”