When I found out during the summer that two of my great aunts were dying of lung cancer, just as my beloved Nana had in 1998, I was heartbroken. How could this happen to these wonderful women? What about their families, and how on Earth would I be able to cope, holding in all the anger and sadness from 10 years ago?
I began to struggle with all the emotions, and became locked into a feeling where I didn't want to reside.
As I began to brush my long, brown hair one evening, I looked blankly in the mirror.
What is it like to stare death straight in the face? Sure, I have my own set of issues that I deal with on a day-to-day basis, but it's not something that would take me from the ones that love me the most.
This is when I began my prayer for guidance in this situation. I felt so selfish; I wasn't the one in this pain, with this struggle!
As I continued to stare in the mirror, I realized that I could do something for my aunts, in their memory, as they struggled.
I would cut off my hair and donate it to Locks of Love.
Locks of Love is a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis, according to the organization's Web site.
If you read the blog I contribute to on The Sentinel's Web site, I am very particular about my hair and have taken good care of it for most of my life. It is my favorite accessory and almost my most prized possession.
Every time I go through a transition, my hair has, too. I moved to Lewistown eight months ago and started a new path in life as a full-time journalist. This called for a new look, but I wanted it to mean something.
My family is very important to me, coming from a part Italian and part Polish background. Whereas I do not have a large immediate family, all my great aunts, uncles and cousins have been a constant part of the significant events and achievements throughout my life.
But suddenly, it seemed like this close family was being shaken.
I spent months since the summer deciding how and when to cut my hair and donate it, but I constantly avoided making an appointment. I was nervous and excited, but sad at all that was happening around my family back at home as I stayed in Lewistown.
Then, right before Christmas, my Aunt Josie left this world to be with God. Soon after, my Aunt Joanie followed.
As I came to terms with their departure - they are in a better place now - I also came to terms with my hair.
There are little girls and women out there, struggling with serious illnesses and facing death each and every day. Don't they deserve long, gorgeous hair? They DO deserve to look beautiful and have the most important fashion piece given back to them for all their courage.
And that is when I did it. Eleven inches cut off my mane in one minute. I was shaking, but I was excited and happy this time.
It isn't about the new, cute hairdo I acquired. It isn't about the compliments or attention I might get for a few weeks.
For me, it is about making a memorial to my aunts and my Nana. It is about giving back to these girls and women something that they long for.
It is about the beauty that comes from the courage inside their hearts, and I'm glad that in some small way, I've had the opportunity to help them display that beauty on the outside as well.
Bethany Fehlinger is the Sentinel city editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.