My husband used to greet my Grandma with the biggest hug. He is Italian and they tend to be more tactile than the Brits, to my discomfort at times (I am not naturally touchy feely). My Grandma was a classy lady by any standard. Graceful, beautiful, elegant, Smart and accomplished in an old school way, she was ‘proper’ there is no doubt. That’s not to say she was distant from me, her Granddaughter. This lady made me feel safe, warm and loved as she did many others. In contrast to the big and bold ways in which Italians openly show their love, her generation wasn’t necessarily big on public displays of affection.
Which is why, when I would witness her engulfed in his 6ft bear hug it would make me squirm a little. You could just make out the top of her face as she disappeared into his greeting. It was so tight I wondered if she could breathe.
One day, in her later years, my Grandma said to me.
“I love Lib’s hugs, I have missed that hug since your Grandad died”
All at once I understood. Grandma was talking about ‘those’ hugs. The ones that tell you it’s ok. For her it was a big old man hug. The ones that say let go, you are safe and secure. It’s a communication where words fall short. I cannot take away your suffering but I can hold you tight through the worst of times. I can physically support you in this space, at this exact moment which makes it impossible for you to fall. It is not only an expression of love but a show of support that messages, handshakes or kisses on the cheek cannot demonstrate.
These are the hugs we really miss. At a time of isolation and distance how do we show our support? Our arms ache to stretch out and squeeze another. To reassure of our connection and heal in the sharing of our pain. Hugging is a grass roots part of being human in a time of unsurpassed technological connection. It cannot be replaced with words because oftentimes words want to mend when there is no way to fix.
I experienced this many times in palliative care. There would come a time when words were defunct and I would stand in hallways and doorways simply holding a husband, parent or wife. A hug is all we have to give at these times and that is enough.
During this pandemic it is the thing I miss and will never again take for granted, the humble yet mighty hug.