The Hug Hiatus

The powerful and insidious impact of a hug-free life.

Posted Jun 08, 2020

I’ve always been a touchy-feely person. I come by it honestly.

Because my mother grew up in a family in which touch was rare and mechanical, she was determined to do it differently when she became a parent. 

And boy, did she ever. 

Throughout my childhood, I was smothered with physical affection. Even as an adult, her hugs always made me feel grounded.

If you were to ask my adult daughter about her fondest grandmother memories, she would say, “Her hand and foot rubs were the best.”

I can attest to that; I recall watching the two of them exchange lengthy massages as they sat beside each other on the couch.

And then there was my dad. 

Born in Vienna, my father hugged and kissed everyone, all the time. And I mean everyone. 

Men too. 

This tendency to be physically affectionate took some getting used to for my Midwest husband, who, one of five boys, only shook his father’s hand throughout their lives together, even at momentous occasions.

As a very young child, I also remember my paternal grandfather, who, because he spoke very little English, expressed his love for me by smooshing my cheeks together with his big hands and kissing and hugging me. 

It was just part of the deal when we visited him.

So, it’s no surprise that I’m a hugger.

I’m prone to giving frequent bear hugs to close family and friends.

What’s more (and this is an ethics spoiler alert—close your eyes), I even hug most of my clients.

I just do. 

Because to me, hugs express feelings words simply can’t.

Hugs are primal.

Given my hug history, I could have easily predicted that COVID-19 would really crimp my style. 

That’s a no-brainer.

But what I couldn’t have predicted is the vast void I feel living a nearly hug-free existence. (Thankfully, Jim, my husband, is exempt from the no-hugging rule.)

One night after a socially distanced dinner with my daughter and family, my husband and I were about to leave.

My 7-year-old granddaughter came over for a hug, and I reminded her we couldn’t embrace. She looked at me sadly and said in a hushed tone, “I hate this virus.” I replied, “I know, honey. Me too.”

And even though we had a nice evening together, my daughter also looked sad upon our leaving.

I later called her to tell her I almost cried because we couldn’t hug.

She replied, “After you left, I did cry.”

And then there was my birthday.

Among the many wonderful things that happened that day, my son wrote me an overwhelmingly poignant card describing his love and appreciation for me as a mother. And it wasn’t even a “big birthday.”

Reading his card took my breath away. It brought tears to my eyes.

The urge to hug him in gratitude was overwhelming.

But no hug.

It’s like a sentence without a period. 

Exacerbating this hug-less crisis was the death of my 95-year-old father over 1,600 miles away.

No hugs goodbye. No warm departing kisses. No reassuring sibling hugs to take the edge off of our mutual pain.

Nothing. 

Occasionally I hear people fantasize about what they will do when the coronavirus is behind us. They dream of going to work without worry, traveling to distant lands, dinners with friends, large celebrations, or going to movies and concerts and other places crowds mingle.

But I?

I dream of hugs. Hello hugs. Goodbye hugs. Making-up hugs. Congratulatory hugs. Gratitude hugs. And no-reason-at-all hugs.

Joni Mitchell had it right when, in the words of a famous song, she sang, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone?”

I believe Joni was on to something.