I officiated a Covid-era funeral recently. Less than 10 people were allowed to be present. The funeral director had on a mask. The podium was sterilized between each person who spoke. The service was live-streamed. What I found more excruciating than the lack of people and even the loss itself, was that I couldn’t comfort any of the family with a hug. We couldn’t hold hands during the prayer I always do with the family prior to a funeral service. Those moments right before a funeral seem the toughest for families. They are feeling so shaky and inadequate for the task ahead. Circling up in prayer, holding onto one another right before we walk in always helps. We could pray but we could not touch. It wasn’t the same.
Three times this week I found myself six feet away from people I love who were doing something nice for me…bringing me flowers and making our family face masks. It hurt me that I could not hug them like I normally would have.
We have not seen our young grandsons in over a month except through FaceTime or Zoom. This is the longest I have gone without hugging and kissing them, holding them and letting them crawl all over me. For my birthday, they sent life size butcher paper hugs that are the actual size of their arm spans. I hung them up in my study and every day those cut outs make me marvel at how big they are. The cut outs also make me smile as I remember their dad telling me that they actually traced around the boys to make these and it wasn’t easy. And, in the same moment, seeing those paper hugs can almost make me sob, I miss their touch so much.
We are not wired to live hug free. My Zoom yoga teacher included in her practice giving our selves a hug. She wisely reminded us that many are living alone now with absolutely no hands to shake or hold or people to hug. We must learn to hug ourselves she said.
I think this is probably one of the biggest unspoken losses of this season we are living in. I’ve read that we may never again be able to shake hands or touch and hug like we used to. I find this unacceptable but I do not know what to do about it.
In the last season of Orange is the New Black some of the women were held in immigration detention centers where touching was forbidden. They learned to give each other eye hugs by catching someone’s eye and blinking their eyes closed in a “hug.” Is this what we will be left with?
Sometimes in these blogs I have insight, wisdom and a word of hope. This hug thing is bothering me and I don’t have any good answers.
I have always been able to picture and sometimes even feel the hug of God. Often I will pray for God to wrap arms of comfort around someone grieving or who is sick or hurting.
I also treasure the theological concept of incarnation, God made flesh and living among us. I think God knows how important actual physical hugs are. We need people. We need each other. Sometimes we just need real live, flesh and blood arms around us.
I am grieving the loss of hugs, handshakes and healing touch as we knew it. Are you?
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mosa to Keller and Pace and breast cancer survivor. Please check out http://www.drcindyryanblog.com for recent sermons, previous blog posts, upcoming speaking events, information about the weekly Jesus Calling Prayer Call Cindy helps to host each week and to sign up for Cindy’s Inner Circle email. The May 1 issue will be a Top Ten List on Managing Your Moods During a Pandemic. Sign up by April 30 to receive it.