I have had a lot of hugs lately. Mostly I like hugs. I like short hugs, long hugs, all kinds of hugs. It’s nice.
I have had a lot of hugs lately, not because of anything I’ve done, but because I lost my mother last week. It was unexpected as such things sometimes are. There was no prolonged illness, no deadly diagnosis. She simply couldn’t breathe, woke me from sleep to tell me, and within minutes I was performing CPR. EMS arrived quickly and took over. She never regained a rhythm, she never regained consciousness. I lost her to the great unknown and I couldn’t pull her back from the edge.
Strangely, it feels like she’s just gone on vacation. She’ll be back. Except she won’t.
She lived with us for the past 3 years, moving in after my parents divorced after 38 years. My dad followed close behind, sold his condo and moved to the same city as the rest of us. They remained great friends and she watched over him. She took him to his appointments, took him grocery shopping, and they spent time together with their grandkids. She spent her last day on earth working in his garden, making spaghetti for my kids’ supper, and resting in her room above our garage. She seemed fine.
I don’t remember the last time I hugged or kissed her, unless chest compressions and rescue breaths count, because I remember that all too vividly.
I never know exactly what to do when someone passes away. Do I send a card? Do I make a casserole? Do I send flowers?
As humans, we feel the pain of other humans. We want to help ease that pain, especially when it is someone we care about. I think that’s where the hug comes in. When someone hurts, the instinct is to embrace them, put our hearts as close to the other as we can. Maybe the embrace will allow the empathizer to absorb the pain of the afflicted, transfer the heartache from one heart to the other, and ease their pain. And you know what?
When you are the person that hurts, people will embrace you. They will linger for longer than they would normally, pulling you in tight and letting you whimper and cry into their neck. Maybe their eyes will shut tightly as they hold back their own tears. They speak into your ear. It’s OK. She’s in a better place. It will get easier. Remember the good times. She’s still in your heart. She’s with God now.
There is no rush to let go. You can stay as long as you want. They will wait for you to let go first. They will hold you up against the weight of the pain, but only for that moment. They can’t have all the pain, that would be unfair. It’s yours. Most of the time, you will have to bear it yourself. But they want to help, so you let them.
Your children will want lots of hugs, too. More than normal. They will call you from the other room. Mom? What is it? Can I have a hug? Your husband will reach for you because he’s hurting, too. And your dad. He feels lost and maybe a little guilty for not being a better husband. So even though you hurt, you help others ease their pain. You share their burden. You try to lighten the weight of their grief.
Maybe with time, the heartache will ease. Maybe the trick my brain is playing on me will stop and I will realize that my mom is not really on vacation somewhere. It’s all not just a dream or a nightmare. It just is.
For now, I will rely on the hugs (virtual and real) that are generously heaped upon me. I will allow myself to be held up under the weight of my grief by the embrace of others. I will tell myself that –it’s OK. She’s in a better place now. It will get easier. Remember the good times. She’s still in my heart. She’s with God now.