I’ve found that most people who are not blood related or partners will only hug for about 4 seconds. This seems to be the socially acceptable and proper length of time for non-intimate hugs regardless of relationship. I’m amazed how uncomfortable people become if expected to rise to the circumstantial need of another when it involves hugging, touch or physical comforting when the other is obviously in emotional pain.
We all know how vulnerable it makes us to ask for help when we’ve been emotionally ambushed by life. One person’s pain cannot be compared to another’s. We’ve all experienced hurt, loss and pain. While we feel these emotions along with loneliness and sadness over life’s circumstances, we don’t always feel grief. Grief occurs generally when there’s a death, (or 7 as in my situation). It can also occur when blindsided by an ending of marriage or career. All of our emotions require our attention and focus in order to integrate.
But grief requires more. Grief is intimate and crushing and vast. It requires thoughtful navigation through its depths to survive intact and eventually nurture the ability to access wholeness, light and joy. Our culture is comfortable with sharing and bearing witness to accomplishments, successes and happy things, but seemingly has lost its ability to witness personal tragedy, grief and the sometimes ugly growing pains of being a human.
During the first months after my husband’s suicide, I asked a few of my married friends if they or their husbands would be willing to let me lie on the couch and be held by either one of them! I just wanted to be held—to cry—to be witnessed in my grief or simply not be alone with it for an hour or so. This request was ignored, brushed off with laughter or agreed to with no opportunity being created for it to happen. I understand and yet I don’t.
Being the capable woman that I am, and unwilling to seek out “companionship” of the one-night-stand sort—
I booked a massage at a reputable establishment and showed up on time. I informed the 20 something young woman that I was a bit fragile and might cry—that it had nothing to do with her and if I did cry, to please ignore it and move forward with the massage. Within 20 minutes, I was wrapped in the sheet, sitting on the side of the massage table holding and comforting the therapist as she cried because she lacked the tools to separate her personal issues from mine and did not have the emotional maturity to hold space for my grief (A grief she knew nothing about as I had not shared details). As I sat holding her, witnessing, comforting and allowing her to show up exactly how she was in that moment, I thought, “WTF? Am I an idiot? I’m paying for this? This is supposed to be about me! This is what I need from her!” (MY humanity was showing!)
I realized in that moment that grief makes space. It opens primal flood gates in our being-ness tearing down all mechanisms of compartmentalization. It forces access to the deepest parts of ourselves and our shadows and thins the veil between how we are “expected” to behave and show up (shiny and bright) and how we wish we could (tattered and thread bare but real). Sadly, as a society, we don’t want to see anything other than happy projections.
My grief opened a portal for this young woman to access something she’d turned away from at some point in her life. Without analyzing it—without speaking or making meaning, we sat in grief together—not exactly how I wanted it, but in communion and authenticity and extremely intimate as we were strangers.(and I was naked wrapped in a sheet in a dark room!) Our burdens were lighter afterward—although neither one of us would have chosen that scenario.
I realized that I was able to give what I wanted to receive. There’s a healing power to that. I did pay and tip this young woman. I booked another massage at a different location and an almost identical scenario unfolded. I behaved the same way, with love and allowance, although I paid somewhat begrudgingly this time! After all, my needs matter just as much as everyone else’s!
While learning a lot about grief and myself through these 2 experiences, I still wanted a massage! I asked a friend for a referral and was led to a male MT—retired military and specializing in sports massage. It took me a month to commit. I finally called and left him this message. “Hey I’m Kim—I was referred by M. Here’s the deal–I might cry—been through a lot—if you can’t handle it, don’t call me back. Thanks.”
Within 30 minutes this therapist called me back laughing and said to come on in, he had daughters and he’d seen worse! So I did, and I didn’t cry!
Now—a year later, I’m genuinely happy and joyful most of the time.
I’ve noticed that my friends are all comfortable hugging me again and I appreciate and enjoy it. I’m grateful they’re allowing me to be my normal “touchy” self, without making it mean anything. At the same time, I recognize that an important opportunity was missed in their inability to be available to and for my pain.
I make these observations without judgment or finger pointing. They’re simply observations about our humanity. I truly believe we all show up the best way we can in any given moment. I can clearly see events in my past where I wish I had been able to show up more fully for my loved ones. The question is, “do we grow and learn?”
Because of this great opportunity to lean into; uncomfortable–unhappy–ugly–raw-painful and dark for 6 long years through so many deaths and leavings, I have cultivated the ability to hold multiple states and perspectives at once;
—to agree and disagree; To want and not receive; To receive and not want what is given; to love and despise; to be joyful and grieving; to reject while at the same time accepting; to be angry and forgiving; to have no clue and yet understand deeply.
Had the massage therapists been able to hold multiple states at once– my pain and the task at hand; empathy without sympathy; interconnection without engagement; what different form of healing might have occurred for us all?
Here’s to loving it all, allowing all aspects of our humanity and relentlessly asking for what we want whether we get it or not!
“Hugging is natural, organic, naturally sweet, free of pesticides, and preservatives. Hugging contains no artificial ingredients. It’s 100% wholesome. No calories, no caffeine, no nicotine.” (borrowed form http://www.poofcat.com)
This month’s challenge! HUG—hug for more than 4 seconds—Go crazy and be one of THOSE people who hug uncomfortably long! Hug heart to heart—Put your chin over the hug-ee’s left shoulder and breathe deeply! Give the gift of connection through hugs—(I’m assuming you won’t hug inappropriately!)
With Warmest Aloha,