The saying that beauty is formed from the inside out is practiced daily by heroic healers who masquerade as hair stylists.
Beautician, stylist, cosmetologist, hair dresser… Jenny and Brenda’s profession is described by many different titles, but hardly ever deemed a ministry. But any onlooker visiting the beauty shop in Shorehaven Tower can see that as much as Brenda and Jenny tend to the business of beauty, the real makeover is done on the inside as they heal, help, console and pray with their elderly clientele.
Their fingers work deftly wrapping wiry strands of hair around each bristled curler and securing it in place with a pink setting pin. They masterfully wield scissors to lop and prune tufts of hair which established roots as early as the 1930s. Their hands are skilled and nimble, an asset to their trade. But it’s their hearts and healing hugs that make the biggest impact.
For days leading up to a hair appointment, residents eagerly anticipate the experience. A day at the salon is a day of pampering. Women especially relish all aspects of the appointment from reading the gossip magazines, sitting under the warm vent of the dryer, and being served a steaming cup of coffee while waiting for curls to set. From age five to 105, a day at the salon is a real treat. Residents at Shorehaven are so grateful for this service that they often tell stylists Brenda and Jenny that it was the highlight of their week. “I think it brings a lot of dignity to them to have something to look forward to,” reports Brenda.
Working at Shorehaven’s beauty salon mandates that you must care about and treat the person first, then the hair. Early in their lives, both Jenny and Brenda felt a calling to work with seniors. “I love working with seniors. I had a close relationship with my grandparents and I always did my grandma’s hair.” Jenny’s relationships with clients, who now feel more like family, began 28 years ago. She has grieved with them, laughed with them and shared her life with them…all while taming their tangled tresses. Brenda has only been with Shorehaven for two and a half years but worked in nursing homes since 1990. They are both well versed in the unique challenges of serving seniors. “You have to be very adaptable. Appointment times change all the time due to doctor’s appointments or illness,” Brenda explains. Not only must they accommodate scheduling changes, they must adapt and respond to the challenges
that their clients are experiencing as they age.
Jenny and Brenda admit that on the rough days, not even a good hair day can boost their clients’ spirits. That’s where the real healing occurs. Kisses, hugs and whispers of ‘I love you’ in their ear often elicit happy tears. With one particular client, they give double the love and wrap the lonely senior in what they call a “love sandwich.” Accepting that kind of demonstrative love can be emotionally overwhelming. Cathartic tears of pent up grief and loneliness are released in the best possible way. It is not unusual that after an appointment at the beauty salon, make up has to be retouched due to tracks of tears.
In addition to retouch requests, after the hair is sprayed in abundance, Jenny and Brenda help each person get ready to return to their rooms. Earrings are clipped back in place, hearing aids are reinserted, bifocals are rested carefully on the bridge of the nose and oxygen tubes are gently tucked behind each ear.
The hardest part of the job is saying goodbye but that doesn’t stop Jenny. When she hears that a client is in the final stages of life, she hangs up her apron, exits her beauty station, and visits each resident in their home. Many times family members are sitting vigil when Jenny enters the room, and they describe being surprised as they witness a stranger approach their loved one in tears. Jenny bends over to kiss their loved one tenderly on the forehead, and whispers for a final time: “I love you. I am praying for you.”
“It’s hard. They are my friends.” Jenny said good bye last month to a friend that she has been seeing for 26 years. Every Wednesday sh
e would come to see Jenny for a wash and a set. “Wednesdays just aren’t the same without her.” It’s a ministry. A ca
lling that goes beyond snip, curl, set and spray. Monday through Friday miracle makeovers take place at the Shorehaven beauty salon by real angels on Earth.