Sunday, February 9, 2020

A BRIEF PERSONAL HISTORY OF HUGS

Somewhere I read that to thrive we need 12 hugs a day.  When my husband was alive and my six children were at home, it was fairly easy to collect those hugs, and more. But now that I am a widow and my children are grown and have mostly moved out (my son is still here occasionally), there are days when even one hug is hard to come by. 
I grew up in a physically affectionate home. My parents were in love throughout the more than 50 years of their marriage, and they demonstrated their love in words and action. My mother believed she had met the man of her dreams in my father, and he called her "Baby Bunny" all the days of their lives. When I was older I understood why my mother had only red negligees when she hated the color red!
When I met the boy who eventually became my husband, I learned that he was from a very different kind of family. They were genuine East Coast WASPs before I knew what the initials stood for, and my husband told me that his mother had last hugged him when he was 11 years old. They were not physically affectionate at all and I didn't think they were emotionally very connected either. His parents separated about the time we were preparing to get married, although they never divorced.  
One of the first fights we had was the Palm Sunday when my husband came into the Catholic Church from the Episcopal Church.  He made a Profession of Faith before Mass, and then could go to Communion with me for the first time that day.  His conversion was the result of years of prayers on my part, and extensive reading (and prayers) on his and it was one of the happiest days of my life.  As we were leaving church, I impulsively reached out and took his hand, and he pulled it away from me.  I was shocked. When we got outside, he said, "Not in church!"  I didn't think there was a rule about holding hands in a Catholic Church, but I thought maybe that was the rule in the Episocopal Church. We had a brief argument, but I was more hurt than angry, and eventually I just let it go.  
When we went on our World Wide Marriage Encounter Weekend after we had been married seven years, our lives changed radically, and one of the outward signs of the change was that we began holding hands wherever we went, and that included going up to Communion as a couple, holding hands. We began with just our two oldest girls walking behind us (though I was quite pregnant when we made our Weekend), and eventually had a parade of six trailing after us, so we were well known in the parish. We learned about couple hugs, and I eventually convinced him that we needed to give his mother one when she came for a visit. 
After his parents had both died, his middle brother died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm, and this changed the whole dynamics of his family. Suddenly reminded that none of us is going to be here forever, his sisters and remaining brother began to hug each other when they got together, and told one another "I love you." When my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his siblings got together by video every week, often with nieces and nephews as well, and they visited as often as they could from the East Coast. It was a blessing to see how much love they really do have for one another, and for our children and me. I am very conscious when my children, sons-in-law and grandchildren are here of giving them deliberate hugs and they are all affectionate with me.
Particularly since I became involved with Beginning Experience, I try to hug everyone in our group when we meet. All of us have lost a spouse, either through death or divorce and the healing power of a hug is amazing.  Just today, after Mass, a friend of mine who is also a widow came up and gave me a hug.  She then asked me about Ray's cancer and told me that she has been praying for him.  It was a gray and rainy day, and her kind words and hug brought a welcome and unexpected warmth into my heart.

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