BOONE LIFE: Hairdresser fulfills last request by styling deceased's hair

Sunday, December 26, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

ASHLAND — In the 28 years since Carolyn Selby opened Hair Studio in Ashland, she has acquired a vast number of clients who have trusted her with their hair.

From teenage clients who grew up and now bring their own families to the regulars who come every Friday from the nursing home, Selby said she never gets bored doing her job.

"It's something I really like to do," she said.

In keeping so many clients over the years, Selby has also often experienced losses when her older clients die.

"I've lost probably seven or eight regulars in the last two or three years," she said.

What many may not know is Selby's relationship with the clients doesn't necessarily end when they die.

Selby said when she was first asked to do a deceased woman's hair, 25 years ago in Columbia, she wasn't sure if she could do it. She decided to give it a try and realized it was something she was able to do.

"That just sort of broke me in," she said. "After that I could do it all right."

By many of her clients' requests, she continues to fulfill the trust they have in her to do their hair in preparation for their funerals.

One of the most recent losses Selby experienced was in November, when she learned that one of her regulars of almost 28 years, Emma Batye, had died at 93.

"She told me a long time ago, 'I want you to do my hair if something ever happens to me,'" Selby said. "And you think, 'Oh gosh, Emma, it's going to be a long, long time,' and it was a long, long time before she passed away."

It had been about two years since Batye moved to Holts Summit to be closer to family, so Selby wasn't sure what to expect when going to the funeral home to do Batye's hair.

"I hadn't seen her hair in a while and wondered if she had color on it, if she didn't have color on it, if she had a perm or if I needed to cut it," Selby said. "I was not used to seeing Emma like that, as light as her hair was today, because I always kind of kept it a light brown."

Selby said that although a deceased person's hair feels the same, there are differences when doing his or her hair.

"Their hair seems the same," she said. "But if your hand or your finger brushes against the body or their face, it's just as cold as ice and real hard, hard as a rock."

After working in the funeral environment for so many years, Selby said she tries not to think about it too much.

"You just have to do the job and try not to think about what you are doing because it would be too sad," she said. "You want to make people look as natural as they have looked all their life, and you take your time and try to make them look like the family wants them to look."

Although it can be a hard experience, Selby said it is one last thing she can do for her clients.

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Diana Hale January 10, 2011 | 9:04 a.m.

Emma was my Great Aunt and was so happy I got to see her a few weeks before she passed. Her hair always looked nice. I'm glad that Carolyn gave Emma her last request of fixing her hair. May she rest in peace.

Diana Durham-Hale
Kansas City, Mo.

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