When a Hug is not just a Hug

I didn’t use to be a hugger. Then I met two dear friends who taught me the value of a hug. The warmth conveyed through a hug. The support felt from a hug. The love transmitted by a hug. How healing a hug can be.

I miss giving friends and family hugs. It was always the way we greeted one another, how we celebrated together, how we let one another know we care about the other, and how we said take care when saying goodbye for now.

Unfortunately, in the midst of a pandemic, a hug means one isn’t social distancing. It means one can transmit the virus without meaning to do so. It means one must suffer alone. It means words must be enough, even when one knows they aren’t enough.

I’ve been afraid to hug my friends and family now that small gatherings are allowed with social distancing. I don’t want it on my conscience if a friend or family member gets sick, it is because I stood too close to them. I also don’t want it on my friends or family’s conscience should I get sick, wondering if the hug or gathering was the reason. For these reasons I’ve kept my distance.

This weekend I went to visit my mom and work on her deck. For many years now we’ve hugged hello and good-bye. The good-bye is the most important to me because she is older and as morbid as it sounds, who know when it might be the last hug I get from her.

For the first time since this all started, my mom asked for a hug in saying good-bye. In the split second before answering her, my mind recalled all the places I had been in the last week. A birthday party, a trip to Costco and Menard’s, got gas, stayed in a motel, and had been close to many people who selfishly choose not to wear a mask even in places where it mandatory to wear one.

Any of these people could have exposed me to the virus, which for my mom’s age group if she contracted it, could be a death sentence. I don’t want that for her, told her why I was afraid to give her a hug, and opted for an elbow bump, the only touch in the four months of COVID-19. It hurt so much to say I was afraid to hug her because all most anyone wants to do is give their mom a hug, especially when saying goodbye.

This morning I met a friend at a park. When we greeted one another it was an air hug. We wore our masks when close to one another. While sitting and talking we socially distanced. Then when it was time to part, I did the air hug thing again, as did she, then I said hugs as a way to honor a pretend hug, and for just a moment, it felt a little awkward, then we gave each other a hug. She is the first person I’ve given a hug, other than my husband, since this all began. It felt odd, it felt good, and it was very much shorter than our usual goodbye hug.

I walked to my car feeling very out-of-sorts. I had the same worries I had had with my mom—what if I had just exposed her or if she had just exposed me. It would definitely feel like a punishment if either of these two things happened.

I was also feeling a great deal of guilt.

As I sat in my car, I was overcome with a great amount of emotion to the point of crying. The guilt for not hugging my mom was overwhelming. The guilt of not practicing social distancing. The worry about the virus. And, the feeling of connection again.

I’m not a people person, preferring to be alone as much as possible (thank you husband for understanding). Giving someone a hug, because I don’t give just anyone a hug, is my way of connecting and letting the other person know I care about them. The overwhelming guilt about not hugging my mom was that I had denied both she the emotional connection to her son, and me the connection of letting her know how much I love and care about her.

Closeness during this time is scary and logistical—stay six feet apart, and/or wear a mask, don’t get someone sick, don’t get sick. Hugging is horrifying because of the risk it places upon both parties. And, we need to hug those we care about, those hugs, that moment of connection, is what will get us through these times in a much better state of mind and emotion.

My hugs still won’t be for everyone, but they will be for my mom. I’ll put on my mask, hold my breath so as not to release any droplets, tell her she needs to go wash her hands, but I will hug her from now on. The virus may dictate a huge part of my life, our lives, but it won’t get in the way of hugs for my mom, or for those within my very close circle.

Life is not without risk. Quality of life matters. Hugs make us all stronger and healthier.

Sorry mom! It won’t happen again. Love ya!

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