As many of my friends and followers are aware, March 29, 2014 unexpectedly we lost my dear wife Rhonda to a severe reaction to a new antibiotic. We would have been married 16 years June 19th. I wish to thank all of you for your uplifting and continuing thoughts and prayers for me and my family. We have felt them and it has helped tremendously. Evonna (16), Justin (13) and Chase (15) are doing well and we are taking things an hour and day at a time trying to find our way without a mother and spouse. Teenagers are strange creatures who think they know so much…we who have been teenagers in the past and survived know the rest of that statement. I pray that they learn to communicate with words their thoughts and feelings I know are there but not being expressed.
Needless to say, shaving these past few weeks has not been on the top of my “things I need to focus on” list. I have shaved. I’m not a whiskery scruffy beast. Some of my shaves have been good. Some very rushed and haphazard. Most have been down right gruesome. Yes there was blood. In the video posted below and a bit later in this blog I will talk about these experiences and the solutions I have found regarding “shaving while coping with stress,” but first I would like to indulge in a bit of memory gathering. Mostly for my benefit but maybe some of you can benefit from my past experiences. I feel the need to write down and tell some things about my personal history and begin to document some of the things I have learned about surviving. living through and coping with grief. Hopefully by revealing my experiences it may help others who are also dealing with past loss and grief or at least punctuate how grief and stress impacts daily functioning (which includes shaving).
I've gone down this particular path regarding this specific type of grief before. Almost 20 years ago my first wife, Kelly suddenly died due to an unanticipated heart attack at the age of 33 years. We had been married 9 years. Then it was my 5 year old son, James and I who learned to move on and live once again. I think if there is such a thing as reincarnation or living past lives I must have been tasked in this life with learning how to cope with death, loss and grief. Thinking, pondering, and hurting from loss through death has been a subject in my heart and soul from a very early age possibly even birth. As I reflect on my life's path, even as an "in the trenches" social worker for the past 30+ years, I can't remember any client, friend or family member with a similar history. Over the past weeks I have pondered what good can be gleaned from this event, what higher purpose can be salvaged? Maybe telling my story and helping others through their pain, losses and grief is a part of my future life path.
I began life as a twin. My twin brother, Joel died about three hours after birth. The 26 week term pregnancy just wasn't enough time for both of us to develop fully and I suppose it was nothing short of miraculous that I survived. Within an hour after birth I was in an ambulance speeding to a large "city" children's hospital. I spent the first 3 months of my life in Cardinal Gennon Children's Medical Hospital in St. Louis and my parents visited on weekends. Just that period of separation and delay in attachment I know has had an impact on me, but 55 years ago nobody thought any harm would happen at all. The day I was released from the hospital they told my mother, “Take him home and fatten him up.” She definitely did her job well. I started out life as a 3 pound 5 ounce, 16 inch long premature baby that could fit nicely in the palm of my father’s calloused hand. In the first few weeks in hospital I lost down to 2 lbs 11 oz which was the birth weight of my brother but by the time I finished First Grade as a 6 year old, I was almost 4 feet tall and weighed 110 pounds standing almost a full foot taller than my peers and most of the kids a year older than me. That’s why ever since I've always been called “Big John”.
I don’t know how it came about but very early in life as a small child I knew that I was a twin and that my brother had died. I've always felt a connection, a kind of spiritual connection with him. I always wondered why I survived and he didn't. Why me? What made me special? I guess survivor’s guilt started early for me. I've always thought I was living life for two instead of just myself.
The next loss I remember was as a 5 year old. My maternal grandfather died. He was well over 80 and had lived a good long life for 1964 Southern Illinois coal miner standards. I can remember sitting next to my father at his funeral and asking questions about death. Questions the average 5 year old wouldn't ask. Less than a year later in February 1965 both of my paternal grandparents died a couple of weeks apart. My grandmother passed first from a heart attack (maybe someday I’ll tell the funny story about me and my grandmother when I was about 4 or 5 years old) and my grandfather, my best buddy (who I talked about in a previous blog article), a couple weeks later from cancer. They lived next door to us and up to that bleak February I saw them both every day.
Probably the biggest and most significant loss of my life occurred in the Fall of 1967. I can remember my birthday party in April when I turned 8 being held a day early that year because my Dad was going into the hospital for exploratory surgery on my birthday. They found colon cancer that had spread and over the next few months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment I saw my father dwindle from a powerful robust 230 lb 6’ 1 ½’’ man to a thin, much weaker, significantly grayer headed man of 170 lbs. Those days were tough. Back then hospitals only allowed young children to visit on Sundays for a couple of hours. I couldn't understand why I couldn't see him more often and I was a very angry camper. It was my Dad and I wanted to see him more often. Somehow I knew he was dying even though I can remember distinctly praying in earnest to God that he not be taken away from me. That prayer wasn't answered and I didn't understand why. Deep down I thought it was because of me. Children think the strangest things and rarely give voice to their thoughts. They just live with them, hidden and in silence. When my mother sat me down to reveal the bad news she didn't get the words out of her mouth before I told her, “I know Mom, Dad’s dead.”
Like I said strange things go through the minds of children. I could not attend the funeral. I had spent what seemed like days at the funeral home as friends and family came to pay their respects and view the body. Scores of people would come up to me and express their condolences making statements like, “He was such a good man,” “He saved my (wife, husband, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, etc.) and they wouldn't be alive today if it had not been for your father.” I know they thought their were words of comfort but were actually the opposite.
My Dad was the Chief of the Tilden, Illinois Volunteer Fire Department and had started one of the very first ambulance/emergency response services with trained EMT’s or First Responders before they were even called such a thing. They were just minimally trained men and women equipped with a portable respirator, stomach pump and oxygen tanks. Their sole job was to get people to the hospital as quickly as possible and provided minimal but essential airway life support while in transit. My father fought fires and dived into ice covered ponds and lakes to retrieve drowning victims and survivors. Many nights he was called out into the cold to help others. He was highly respected and had been elected School Board President and was a leader in the local Civil Defense efforts. He was not only my hero but our community’s hero. Yet he died at the age of 43 years. It wasn't fair and ironically tragic.
Many of my earliest and fondest memories involve being at the local funeral home. We always seemed to be there for one reason or another. That was where distant and local family members gathered and visited. It wasn't always a sad creepy place but a place of smiles, hugs, and renewed or beginning connections/relationships. There were other deaths over the next few years. My cousin and aunt and I attended their funerals. I was even a pallbearer when I was 12 years old for my 26 year old cousin who died in a diving accident from "rhapsody of the deep."
But my father’s funeral I just could not attend. I knew there would be a lot of words praising and remembering his contributions to society and the heroic deeds he had done. I couldn’t take anymore. Why did such a good man have to die? Why did he have to die and leave me? Of course in time (years later) I learned to understand that he did not leave me. He did not choose to leave and as long as I chose to keep his memory alive in my heart nothing in this world could separate me from him or him from me or his love.
I can remember distinctly telling myself as an 8 year old boy that I had to “watch out for myself” now since my Dad would no longer be around. I had to stay out of trouble because he was the disciplinarian in the family and he wouldn't be around to keep me in line. I had to keep myself in line and be “good” for my mother. Many angry young boys turn that anger outward into violence and acting out. I was the opposite. I became a perfectionist and high achiever, which wasn't a bad thing, but emotionally not always a healthy perspective for a young lad and adolescent. Reputation was so very important to me and my family. The words, “We may be poor, but the Hallock name is something to be proud of” rings in my ears to this very day.
Looking back I grew up living day to day under a tremendous amount of stress. We would call it trauma today. The ACE’s Study (Adverse Childhood Experiences) proves how the traumatic events of one’s childhood can significantly impact the health and well-being of adults’ years later. Living with stress became a natural thing. I didn't know life without it.
Just beneath the surface for many years my grief, pain and sorrow lingered and would in a moment’s notice pop up and become refreshed in my heart and soul. It would not be until my early 20’s and in college that I began to understand how my anger and grief had colored my life, my relationships, and the choices I had made up to that point and beyond. As the years have passed I continually have learned more and more about coping with loss, stress and grief. I guess you could say I’m a professional now at handling grief and loss both in my personal and career life pathways. I suppose I chose, or maybe it chose me, the profession of social work, so I could learn how to heal and understand myself.
Working in social work and child protective services is a very stressful lifestyle. Grief, pain and loss is a daily viewed and experienced series of events that never seems to end. In some ways those of us working in child welfare are adrenaline junkies. We thrive on being surrounded with high pressures, life and death situations, high emotions, unbelievable daily stress, loss, pain, and grief. Consequently, I have learned to move through and adapt and process stress and grief and more importantly how to let it go. I recognize when I am experiencing it, which is ultimately the first step in minimizing and coping with the trauma.
Rhonda died early Saturday morning, March 29th (my father’s birthday and the anniversary of my first marriage – strange coincidences isn't it?) and I didn't shave until Sunday afternoon. That first shave was rough. There were weepers and the result was nowhere near BBS. The muscle memory just wasn't there anymore. The rest of the first week I shaved probably every other day. I quickly found out that solid bar closed comb razors were not good options. Open comb razors were the best option for me. Soaps were not good options. It took too much concentration to create a good lather. Creams worked much better because it was easy, simple and almost automatic.
Below I have posted a shave video where I talk about these things and how using an open comb razor worked better and which open comb razor became my “razor of choice” when under stress. I could write everything down here (see below), but that wouldn't be as much fun as watching or doing a video. If I ever get around to writing a book I guess I’ll have to catalog my “stress shaving techniques” with paper and pen in greater detail. Until then you can watch the video. I hope it is useful to you in some way.
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe
Now that you have seen the shave video I will attempt to discuss a few issues about shaving under stress and coping with the situation.
There are any number of times in our lives when, whether we realize it or not, we must continue working, living and shaving when stressed. Our day to day lives produce stress and when our body and mind are under pressure things don't work as well as they should.
Shaving is one of those activities that under usual circumstances can be a very relaxing activity. Getting into the “zone” or the “zen state” while shaving can be a very uplifting and freeing time in our hustle bustle lives. Once the muscle memory of the motions of shaving – the brush work, the with, against and across the grain hand and arm movements can be so “invisible” to our minds that it becomes automatic and therefore an activity where time is lost and the mind floats into a peaceful state of enjoyment and stress relief. It is during such shaves that a BBS result just happens and can usually be classified as one of the best shave experiences in memory.
Yet there are many times when the stars do not align and nothing we do seems to work right, even when using tried and true products and equipment. There are weepers and even harsher nicks or even cuts as a result. A DFS finish is at best stretching the truth and your face is irritated and your mind in confusion. You don't have a clue why the shave was so bad. When you reach a stretch of shaves where there are more bad days than good without any reasonable or logical reason it is time to look beyond the shave and examine your deeper physical, mental and emotional status. Something is wrong and you need to identify exactly what that something is and seek to correct it.
Many bad shaves are not the result of bad products, but we often blame the products or the equipment instead of looking inward to our current stress levels. A bad day at work can result in a bad shave that night or the next morning or just the opposite. A good shave can reverse the effects of that bad day at work or argument with your significant other.
Stress is a warning sign that something within your “system” is going wrong. It could be worries, problems in performance in some other element of our lives, an illness, a strained relationship, or simply being too tired. There are many reasons to consider. One poor shave does not a crisis make, but several could mean a much deeper problem.
It takes something significantly wrong in my life for my stress level to elevate to a malfunctioning level that a poor shave is the result. I suppose the death of a spouse is adequate reason since it is ranked as the number one most stressful life event on virtually every stress ranking scale or inventory in existence.
That first shave following the death of my wife I could tell immediately things were not going to go well. The lather wasn't quite right and my muscle memory was almost as unstable as trying to drink a cup of coffee on a roller coaster. Yes, there was blood. Not a lot but far more weepers and nicks than I had experienced over probably the past year combined. I rarely have weepers or nicks when I shave.
Recently I have been using solid closed bar razors like my Gillette Adjustables, Maggard, Matador, and Parker. They were my go to shavers over the past 6 months. I tried them all and even though the initial shock had subsided I was still having at least one weeper per shave. I returned to my old friends the open comb razors – Gillette Old Style, New Style, and my faithful RazoRock Jaws.
In no time I soon realized that I could shave without weepers and nicks with my open comb razors and not the solid bar styles, even though the solid bar style razors were relatively “milder” shavers. After thinking about it and observing during my shaves I realized that the open comb design in its very nature was created to compensate for a more aggressive (efficient) shave and solid bar razors did not have a “cushion” built into the design factor. In other words, when your hand is not steady an open comb designed razor will provide an effective shave with more margin of error built into the equation. The open comb allowed more protective lather to remain on the face and the combs seemed to allow for less “exposure” to the blade, which may be counter intuitive, but I find that an open comb razor is less likely to nick on corners, curves and close and tender spots like the edge of the lip.
I put my beloved soaps away for the most part and turned to shaving creams with The Body Shop's Maca Root being my cream of choice most days. It takes much less concentration and effort to make a good lather from a cream than is possible with a soap, even a soft soap. Why struggle with a puck when a cream can get you there quicker and easier.
I also found that sharper blades worked better than the less aggressively sharp smoother ones. Again a counter intuitive factor. I concluded that the efficiency of my sharpest blade choices signaled to my befuddled brain that I did not need to press hard and I could receive a good shave quickly without multiple clean up passes.
So what set up did I use most of the time: RazoRock Jaws or Gillette New Style Long Comb, The Body Shop Macca Root Shave Cream, and a Kai razor blade. The brush didn't matter but it usually was a badger of some type.
It's now been three weeks since Rhonda died and my shaves have improved but I can still feel the stress and I can tell that I will probably be using this same shaving kit for several more weeks. I don't anticipate being able to settle down enough until I have gotten the death certificate and all of the “business of dying” has been taken care of and I can take a deep breath and finally relax a bit.
The moral of the story is that you cannot expect great shaving performance when your system (mind, body, soul, spirit and heart) isn't hitting on at least 6 or 7 out of 8 cylinders. If your shaves have turned consistently poor, don't blame the hard or software but look in your heart, mind and body to see if something else is the root cause.
Stress can do many strange things and can make you do, act, and feel many strange things. Don't stuff those feelings and situations deep into your heart and soul. Exorcise them and shine some light into the darker corners. Open up and talk to friends and family. Clean out the cobwebs and more than anything else, give yourself some time and space to recover and recoup.
Stress is a warning sign – a symptom of a deeper problem. It is a natural process but unresolved and lingering stress can in itself be a killer of not only good shaves, but of life itself.
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe