A few weeks ago I was purchasing a new piece of technology. When I was working with a tech guy in the store to get my purchase up and running I turned around and saw someone I knew. He was really an acquaintance. We had seen one another at group functions and waved hello and that was really it. We never really talked. We are friends on Facebook, which has significance to my story about hugs so I’ll share this first.
I use Facebook to post some of my thoughts about what I’m going through, mainly on days when I just can’t handle the grief on my own and I need an outlet. But in return I have had some amazing public and private responses about how people believe that what I post has helped them. Some people even say it’s changed their relationships with significant others and their priorities in life. One person was going through a prolonged illness with a family member who eventually passed away. They wrote me a message to say that my posts and blog had helped them prepare for their grief. So it may sound crazy but I am so gratified to know that my pain is helping others. Releasing it to the world is helping me, at least to some degree.
So back to the acquaintance. We never really talked before except to say “Hi.” But soon after we saw each other in the store, he came over to me and told me he had been reading my social media posts and said “I wanted to tell you that I think what you’re doing is brave.” I thought, how can I be brave when I feel so weak and alone but I thanked him. Then I asked him, “Do you know what helps?” He looked mildly confused. Then I said “hugs,” and so we hugged. And I did feel better with the embrace. It’s something that I’m learning as I journey through this dark grief. And I hope that he passes this message on to others and that he can ask for hugs when he needs them too. But hugs are also a message to those who don’t understand how to deal with someone who is grieving. They stand a distance from you and mumble “my condolences,” or “I’m sorry for your loss,” then they are lost about what to do next. So I am telling people that hugs are healing and that they help everyone who needs to be propped up for any reason.
The acquaintance and I talked briefly, then he went back to his purchase and I went back to working with my tech guy. I briefly explained to the young man (during our discussion about my purchase he mentioned that he was 23) and I told him that I had lost my husband to explain that most North Americans would consider strange behavior – hugging random people. After we finished I thanked him for helping me with my new purchase. I put out my hand to shake his and he opened his arms and hugged me, a big, warm bear hug. I thanked him and I thought “This is so great. I hope he pays my message forward and shares the importance of hugs for healing too.”
A few days later I went to visit my sister. She lives near Washington, DC and so I flew there. On my way home, as I was waiting to get through security at the airport, there was a young woman standing ahead of me. I’m guessing she was in her mid-20s. She was wearing a long sundress and I remember thinking she had some amazing tattoos on her arms. She was pushing a stroller with a toddler in it. Then I noticed she was crying. I asked if she was o.k. She said she was so sad. She wanted to stay because her family was there but she had to go home. She had come for her father’s funeral.
I asked her if I could ask her a favour. She nodded and I asked her if I could give her a hug. She nodded again. I leaned over and put my arms around her and whispered in her ear, “It’s o.k. I just lost my husband. I know this is hard but you will be o.k.”
She returned the embrace and then thanked me as we were pushed up through the line and into the security section.
As I was gathering my belongings from the X-ray belt someone came up and tapped me on the shoulder. It was the young woman. She said “can I ask you a favour?” I said “yes.” She said, “Can I hug you?” And of course I said “yes.” She thanked me for helping her during her difficult time, and then we parted ways.
I thought a lot about hugs on my way home that day. If everyone hugged someone to give them strength and if we hugged each other without feeling constrained by uncertainty, but moved instead by love and caring, how wonderful would that be? In my mind the world would be a better place. Well, maybe that’s just being too idealistic. But for the moment I will just concentrate on receiving and giving hugs and spreading the message that hugs can be healing.