I wrote last time about the selfishly aborted shopping trip the day before my mother fell and broke her hip. She died less than a week later.
On Sunday we were told she would not survive this fall and “if people wanted to come say goodbye, now was the time.” One of my jobs was to make telephone calls. I called cousins and one uncle, an aunt. I called one of my mother’s church friends (I’ll dedicate an entire blog to that call). I called their housekeeper, who also happens to be one of my closest friends. Her name is Sandy.
On Sunday, I returned with lunch around eleven AM and what did I see? Sandy sitting next to my mother, talking with her, calming her, stroking her arm, holding her hand. Even as I write this, the need to cry is overwhelming. Tears of gratitude but mostly tears of guilt and shame. But I won’t let the tears fall (a subject of another post).
As much as I needed to … as much as I actually wanted to … I could not sit and touch my mother like that. We are not a “touchy-feely” family. I can recall almost every hug my parents have given me because there are so few. I have never hugged my brothers or nieces or nephews. Even hugging my own children causes a low-level anxiety.
It’s not just me. My brothers and my father also didn’t touch her or each other (well, Dad did rub her arm in those final minutes).
She passed with me standing on one side of the bed and my father on the other. We held hands across that space until we realized what we were doing. Then – BAM – we dropped the hold. When my father started to cry (which I had NEVER seen him do), I walked around the bed to rub his shoulders. That was the best I could offer. No hug. No words of love or grief. A thirty-second rub. And I promise you he was not comforted by that – touch in our family is simply uncomfortable.
I have a few “huggy” friends and my in-laws like to hug too. I am so uneasy that everyone is tense. It’s so bad that many of these huggers just stopped trying. Others stand back, look me in the eye and say, “Hold on, I’m going to hug you.” Then I brace, hold my breath, survive. What most of these people don’t know is that I usually want to snuggle in and almost always choke back tears.
I have to give my in-laws credit. After 27 years of marriage, they haven’t given up on me.
Whenever my son and his family visit (which is often), he and my husband always embrace. The same is true for my daughter and even her boyfriend. I sit on the couch so jealous and isolated. It’s horrible. But I cannot bring myself to enter that tenderness. Why is that? It’s more than just a family culture – it’s deeper and more insidious.
My husband wishes I was more touch-oriented. As a matter of fact, and sadness, touch is one of his love languages and I have the hardest time meeting that need. He’s adjusted but it should have been me to make adjustment.
Even writing about this is stressful to me. I want to be a hugger – to be tender with people. But more than that, I’d like to understand why it’s so hard for me and my entire family. Do we not think we deserve the touch? Did someone along the way make touch ‘wrong’ or ‘scary’? Do we not think people want our touch?
I’m wondering now why I never thought to discuss this with my therapist. I guess it’s one of those ‘out of sight, out of mind’ things. Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to investigate this deeper. Hopefully I can figure this out before my father dies and I’m left feeling sad that I didn’t/couldn’t reassure him of my love with hugs and caresses.
I don’t think my son or future D-I-L read this blog, but if they do… Brian and Angelena, watching the two of you hug my mom, tell her you love her and then snuggling in close to my dad is one my most precious gifts. I’ll try to do better. I love you.
To Sandy P – Thank you for a million things! You made my mother feel special and my father smile. You accept me with all my idiosyncrasies. I love you.
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