By Nancy Oliver


Within a few weeks of my husband’s death, I dyed my blonde hair deep auburn. I was in such a blur of confusion and denial; my life felt like it was spiraling downward. It felt like everything was slipping through my fingers; my hair, however, was still something I felt I could control. To say that I went a little crazy is an understatement. I began to be fascinated with its color, the depth of the color, the gloss level of the highlights. In the first six months, I changed the color constantly. In one session, the hairdresser couldn’t get the color right…I wanted it a deep chestnut that was not quite black. We went through three color changes that day. There was no desire for perfection in her about it, but there was in me. And I knew I wanted it right. The hair was the anchor to my newly serious, perpetually heart-sad look.

I wanted to get rid of all my clothes and wear only black. And it wasn’t because of the mourning that all black signified, but it was a lack of emotion that I felt. I felt colorless and void. Black was comforting in its precision and its infinity.

Eventually, my stylist thought we should give the coloring a rest. I agreed. It wasn’t perfect, and it couldn’t be. Instead, I had her cut my hair. Short. I had always had cowlicks, but I had fought them all my life and worked to make them into “proper” obedient hairstyles. When Cathy cut my hair really short for the first time, we were amazed at the spontaneity on top of my head. We marveled at it.

The hair on my head was just a physical symbol of the metamorphosis I was going through. I stopped trying to control my hair. The natural color eventually returned. My cowlicks continued to go haywire. My life, however, was still without the special tint that my husband gave it.

Many days, I did not feel like getting out of bed, but it was not because I was tired. I was just as inept at rest as I was at anything else.

If you’re not really good at something, you’d better be good for something, my father used to say. I wasn’t doing a great job at mourning. It wasn’t making me feel better. So I began by making a list of things to do. This was something that I could definitely do. I needed direction and something to focus on. A list would help with that. At the top of that first list, I wrote the word “Tomorrow.” I drew a line under it. The first item on my list was only five words – “get up and get moving.” The second was “write 100 words.”

My metamorphosis began to take flight. I was beginning to be determined that I would readjust to the void in my life.

The next morning, I did get up. I crossed that item off my new list and my new determined way to be. While the coffee was brewing, and its rich aroma was filling the kitchen, I pulled out an old notebook with a bent spiral binding and began to jot down a few words. Nothing would come at first; the black hand of sadness began to tug at me, pulling me downward. Before the grip sank into my brain enough to paralyze me, I started to make a list of what was in the kitchen – refrigerator, stove, sink. By the time I had gotten to “counter top,” I could breathe.

It was just a list, but it became more than a list. Within a week, I became driven. At the beginning, I gave myself all day to get the tasks done. Except for the first one. I had to get up physically within five minutes of wake up. In no time, however, I had my growing list of tasks completed by noon. The first task was always the same, however – get up and get moving.

Everyone – at any time – is going through a metamorphosis. At the gym, Cheryl is becoming a grandmother for the first time at 38. Frank has just been laid off for the second time in 18 months. Becky and Bill have just had a much-beloved elderly dog pass away.

To go from dark to light – a true metamorphosis – requires a willingness to recognize the brilliance of the apparent from the safety of the dark. Metamorphosis is evolution. The person you were, or thought yourself to be, is changing. Cheryl will learn that it’s OK to be a young grandmother. Frank has taken a job as an intern in a field that he’s always wanted to explore. Becky and Bill are finding immense joy in the incredible and inexplicable craziness of a terrier mix puppy.

And me? I’ve gone from being a keening creature in the dark waves of despair to being a creature of light and mirth. One of my daily goals now is to make someone else laugh. It is a silly step, certainly, but it has helped me along my own way.

A true metamorphosis is not just a one-time event. It is gradual, measured and slow but that does not diminish its power. Sometimes, you are not even aware of the metamorphosis because it is ongoing, and you are in the middle of it. My own metamorphosis has been slow, gradual and has sputtered often. More than a few days, I could only do one thing on my list – the first thing – I knew I could always do that one if nothing else…and that was to get up and get moving.

About this writer

  • Nancy OliverNancy Oliver, is a writer and editor who is currently working on the renovation of her family’s 104-year-old farmhouse in rural North Carolina. When she’s not sanding floors, she’s making notes about the life around her.

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2 Responses to “Metamorphosis”

  1. Susan DeBow says:

    Very nice article. It got me thinking.

  2. Rosa Blue says:

    What a truly insightful and moving story. I also saw myself in there, as I’ve recently thought of coloring my hair, a light shade of red, which is something I’ve never done and it most certainly has to do with me trying to deal with a loss, and change.
    And a list, that too has crossed my mind. Like, Ten things I can do to change my life. I believe my first item on my list would also have to be, “get up and get moving.”

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