This time last year, my dad embarked on his final life chapter – which we’ll simply call “Bastard Cancer” – with his story ending just 10 weeks later. The baseline to our family was suddenly gone and the only thing me, my two sisters and my mum were left with was devastation and deep, inexplicable shock. Two days later, I was plagued by a vicious cold – the head-banging, eyes-and-nose-streaming, throat-scraping kind – which lasted for weeks. It was brutal and meant that I could barely cry; I swore my head would explode if I did. But while the "normal" thing to do after a bereavement was working against me, something unexpected was not.
Even through my fluey, grief-filled haze, from day one AD (After Dad) I got up every morning and performed the same beauty regime I always had. I applied my usual face of make-up, my skincare routine was on point (cleanse, tone and moisturise) and I carried on with my morning hair ritual of washing, drying and straightening, almost as if nothing had happened. By day four, I began to feel strange about it – “Surely there are more important things to be worrying about than how I look?” I thought. But this wasn’t a vanity thing. It was control in the wake of a 10-week period where everything had been so desperately slipping through my fingers. And it was making me feel better.
A few months after Dad died, I met up with Lee Pycroft, an emotional wellbeing coach and make-up artist, whose niche is integrating beauty and emotional self-care. Her advice gave me more clarity than I’d had in a long time and she assured me that my reaction was not unusual: “When you lose someone, everything is chaotic. Sticking to a familiar, methodical routine, like applying make-up, focuses and soothes the mind and sets up certainty in a very uncertain time.” A relief, considering this newfound method of therapy became a theme in my healing process.
Once grief forced me to dig a little deeper, I discovered there was genuine healing power in beauty, big and small
While so-called "me-time" might yell “cliché”, never has the phrase rung so true. Hair appointments went from routine dates in the diary to an essential form of escapism. Whisking me away from the murky bubble of grief, being able to take part in fresh conversation with a friendly face where I could ignore the sadness, at least for a moment, was, and still is, liberating. For once, new hair – the oldest mood-booster in the book – wasn't the only positive thing to come out of sitting in a chair for three hours.
In the toughest moments, I look to anything for comfort – the smell of Dad's aftershave or a photo I took on a whim but could now hug myself for. Before grief came knocking, I hadn’t considered lighting a scented candle for anything other than concealing the fact I hadn’t cleaned my house for a week, but suddenly they became crucial. Citrusy notes lifted my mood, woody fragrances provided much-needed comfort and the smell of peppermint woke me up after my cold from hell. It’s true what they say – scents are seriously good for the soul. Don’t knock it until you’ve really needed it.
Beauty even managed to pull me through preparing for Dad’s memorial service. He used to comment on how amusing it was that someone with such an untidy bedroom (*rolls eyes*) could come out of it looking so "well turned out". “Right then,” I thought and booked a whole menu of treatments for the day before the service. Honestly? Anyone would think I was going to my best friend’s wedding. But I felt polished, presentable and that I was doing him proud. Looking my best for him made it easier to endure the saddest of occasions, with my head held high.
I think my dad used to think beauty was all just a bit of fun and, let’s face it, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had in experimenting with new make-up or having a good-hair day. But, once grief forced me to dig a little deeper, I discovered there was genuine healing power in beauty, big and small. If only Dad knew how much it was helping me now.
My 5 healing heroes
It simply fills the room with happy vibes.
When I’m feeling low and downright exhausted, these brilliantly natural extensions help to give me back some identity.
The zesty orange fragrance gives me a boost when I’m finding it hard to concentrate.
The power of touch works wonders for healing and this full body massage is perfect for de-stressing and feeling centred. Salon finder is on clarins.co.uk
Because lavender, camomile and patchouli are the perfect sleep partners and sometimes you need a bit of help.