Published in the Rains County Leader on February 9, 2021:
What is one of the first things we say to our grandchildren when we see them? I have no scientific proof to back this up, but it’s probably something like Come give Grandma a hug! And more than likely, the kids come running. Maybe it’s because they know that Grandma usually brings treats, or maybe it’s because there’s something in human nature that craves the touch of another person.
One of my favorite stories from our family history is of a cousin who went to her grandmother and asked for a hug. It must have been cool, because the older woman had on long sleeves. She picked up the little girl and gave her a squeeze, but the child wasn’t satisfied. “No, Grandma,” she said as she patted her arms. “I need to feel skin.”
It’s a cute, feel-good story, but the theories of some healthcare professionals seem to back up the little girl’s need. In an article dated March 1, 2010, Maia Szalavitz of Psychology Today stated that touch can ease pain and lift depression. She further said that babies who are denied touch through lack of being held, nuzzled or hugged may fail to thrive and may even die if the situation continues too long. In April of 2018, the Healthline website quoted family therapist Virginia Satir as saying “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”
More recently, Healthline, Sheba International and Selecthealth each posted articles listing the benefits of hugs. These included reduced levels of stress hormones leading to less stress, fear and anxiety; lower blood pressure which improved heart health; higher self esteem and improved relationships and communication due to increased feelings of safety, love, and connection; and the release of endorphins as well as improved circulations that helped reduce chronic pain and increase happiness.
One of the things we’ve been told to do during the pandemic is to isolate ourselves in our homes, and when we go out, we’re told to stay at least six feet apart. That’s really hard for creatures who are created for community and closeness. We hear stories of sadness, depression, and even suicide, and some people who have lost friends and family in hospitals and long-term care facilities where no visitors are allowed feel that their loved ones died more from loneliness than from disease. Many posts on social media express sentiments like the thing I miss the most is hugs.
I am blessed that, at least so far, we’re not told to avoid hugging our spouse, but I still miss the hugs from my friends at the Senior Center and from my church family. I have to admit that I don’t always follow the guidelines as closely as I might. The Center still isn’t open, but we’re back to our regular schedule at church and home group. There are those who are still nervous about being in a crowd, and I try to respect their space. But there are those few brave souls who would rather risk the dangers of a hug than do without, and we always seem to find each other. And there have been a few other indiscretions.
Last month we went to visit a friend the day before her birthday. I asked if we should wear masks, but she said we’d just keep our distance. During our visit, it became obvious that she followed certain recommended limitations, not because of conviction but because her children insisted. When it was time to leave, she offered her elbow, and I bumped it with mine. There was an awkward moment like the one at the end of a first date when the decision to kiss or not to kiss has to be made.
“It’s not nearly like a hug, is it?” she asked.
“No,” I responded.
My life didn’t flash before my eyes, but hers did. She’s no spring chicken, and neither am I. What if this was the last time we saw each other this side of Heaven. I took a deep breath, turned my face away so I wouldn’t breathe on her, and we hugged. “Don’t tell my kids,” she whispered. I haven’t told, and we’re well past the quarantine time. Neither of us has developed symptoms, so we’re in the clear – unless one of her kids is reading this.