Frankie had worked as a barber in a small town for over 40 years. It’s important to note that in a small town the barber shop has its own sub culture. Men of all ages, from all walks of life and socioeconomic status, enter on equal footing. The barber with blades in hand, is ruler of the roost siphoning in information from gossip, secrets, and confessions of clients. The power is all his, as the morsels he collects he can choose to hold tight to or to pass on to others.
For forty years the castle was his. Others clamored for his favor to win tidbits about others. He was respected. He was independent. His job was his life.
When they found a nodule in his lung he started chemotherapy in secret. He had listened and passed on tales of countless other peoples cancer woes and didn’t want the awe filled pity that accompanied the news.
He pushed through the fatigue and side effects, never missing an day at work.
The news came that the cancer was spreading rapidly, but he continued to ignore this reality. Finally one morning he didn’t have the strength to make it to work. With no work to go to, he called hospice. Now he was ready to die.
I met Frankie the day he enrolled with hospice. We talked about his life, his hopes, his disease. I cautioned him that although his weakness and fatigue were preventing him from going to work it still appeared that he had several weeks left, if not a month or so before the end.
Word got out about Frankie’s cancer, the very world of information exchange that he had controlled now passed around his own tale.
Without his job, Frankie floundered. He refused visitors, he lashed out at family. He climbed so inward into himself that he’d often ignore my visits. If anything was muttered, it would be about wanting to die.
It’s as if, in Frankie’s eyes, 100% of his value was in being a barber and when that was taken away there was nothing left. No amount of medication, dignity therapy, or listening could fix the suffering from loss of identity. It was agonizing. He laid in bed, rejecting the world for over a month before he died.
I’ve tried to funnel the heartbreak of not being able to help Frankie into a check up of my own self value. There’s got to be balance of worth that comes from both external and internal things.
If only Frankie could have acknowledged that despite not being able to go to work, he was still a father, a grandfather, a friend, and still a barber with a lifetime of stories to be shared.