A letter from Dr. Hal Weitzbuch…
Have you ever tried to do something nice for someone that just… didn’t turn out right? Well, that happened this past weekend to me. And I feel really bad about it.
Here’s What Happened
Lea, a family friend who is really more like an aunt to me, was turning 65. So a group of her closest friends (myself included) decided to surprise her with a big birthday barbecue. Boy, was she speechless.
When Lea got out of the car and saw her family and friends waving at her from a group of picnic tables… Her face lit up like a little kid. She ran to everyone individually to give them hugs, and had a smile glued to her face for hours.
But later in the day, things took an uncomfortable turn. As Lea was chatting at the “grownups” table, her 4-year-old grandson, Wyatt, ran up to her and give her a flower he’d plucked from the grass. And, when she bent over to thank him for it he gasped and pointed to her part, which had gotten thinner due to hair loss.
“Grandma… what happened to your hair?”
At that moment, the entire table got quiet…Painfully quiet. Lea smiled, said something about getting older under her breath, and brushed the question off the best she could. But she was clearly embarrassed. And the look on her face broke my heart. Kids say the darndest things, don’t they?
Of course, Wyatt’s mom pulled him aside to tell him why his comment was inappropriate. But the damage was already done. Lea’s smile was gone, and she had a weariness about her that I hadn’t seen before.
Later, when I brought her a piece of cake to check up on her, she said “Really, Hal, I’m fine. I mean, I’m not blind — I know what my hair looks like. It’s just hard when you realize other people can see it too.” And as heartbreaking as it is, I don’t think her fears are that unusual. Deep down, we all worry that others notice our flaws and imperfections. And unfortunately, little Wyatt confirmed that fear for Lea.
Now, the good news is, Lea picked herself up, and was able to enjoy the rest of the party. But I could feel she was still hurting. Especially when she gave me an extra long, “don’t let go” type of hug as she was leaving. The thing is, everyone has fears and insecurities about their looks — especially as they get older. And those insecurities can pop up at the worst possible moments. In fact, I see it at my office all the time. Every day, I talk to men and women who have been hurt by offhand comments. Comments that are never intended to hurt… but do.
As a matter of fact, I had a patient whose granddaughter asked her why she looked so angry all the time. And another patient who recently went out for dinner with a friend said the waiter asked if she was her friend’s MOTHER. Sadly, these sorts of comments (which are usually not ill-intentioned) remind us that we might not look as young as we used to. And — as you know — our hair can be a big part of that equation.
But I’m here to tell you: You’re not alone.
And I want to ask you an important question right now: Has an innocent or offhand comment ever hurt YOUR feelings? And if so, how did it make you feel? I hear my patients talk about this kind of thing all the time, but today, I want to hear from YOU. Because, it can feel good to get these things off your chest. And I’ve found sharing these tough experiences by writing them down can help you get past them.
To confident days ahead,
Dr. Hal Weitzbuch, MD