I got to pondering on the healing power of touch recently as the result of a conversation with a woman in her late 80’s. She was sharing with me about how she felt while being in lockdown and when I asked her what she missed the most, she replied ‘being touched’. I could really relate to what she had shared, and I am sure that we were not the only ones who missed this most natural of human interactions during the time we were asked to stay in our own ‘bubbles’ of protection against the rapidly spreading virus known as Covid-19.
In contrast to a lot of older people who I have spoken to, I actually enjoyed being in ‘lockdown’. Yes, like so many of us, I was physically isolated but in no way did I feel socially isolated, not just because I had family close by who I was able to connect with every day but also because I took the opportunity to have many conversations, on the phone and online, with people in my everyday life and others around the world. But the one thing that was missing was the physical presence, and the touch or the warmth of a hug from another.
Over this quiet time, I had many realisations, but the big one arrived very late one afternoon towards the end of lockdown, along with the rural delivery man when he turned up with a package for me. We had a bright and breezy chat about how extraordinarily busy he had been, thus the very late delivery, and in the process, I observed we were not really keeping our 2m distance; but it didn’t worry me. After closing the van door, he walked past me and for some reason which eludes me, he touched me on the shoulder. But what I do remember though is walking back up the path to my house and saying out loud – ‘wow -that is the first time I have felt a human touch for at least five weeks!
That definitely was a great big wow! After all, as humans, deep down there are two things we all crave, one is to be unconditionally loved and the other is to be lovingly touched; and it doesn’t matter how old we are.
There is something so very comforting and very intimate – but not in a sexual way – about being lovingly touched by another, whether it be an intimate partner, a child, a family member or even a friend. It can be a feeling, an inner warmth, a knowing, that someone is near, wanting you to know that they care, that you are loved, not just in an emotional way but in an all-encompassing, unconditional way where the love you feel comes with no strings, simply a heartfelt exchange between two people. I have come to understand that when there are no walls between us and when we are being fully transparent, we have true intimacy; a deep and natural connection to another.
For all of us, our first ever loving touch will be felt when we are born and held in warm caring hands while we adjust to being out in the world. And in the first weeks/months of our lives it is the touch of our mother, father or other caregivers that we come to know so well, being able to tell how they are feeling simply by the quality of their touch, and by the vibrational quality of their voices as well. In fact, as everything is energy, and because as small children, we are naturally aware of the energy all around us, we are always sensing the quality of the energy that comes with the movements of those in our lives.
As we progress through our lives the touch will probably begin to change and come in many different forms, but with each one there will be an appreciation of the warmth of the body that is reaching out to touch us, whether a gentle touch on the hand, a delicate stroke on our face or a wonderful body encircling hug. Of course, there will also be many who sadly experience the outplay of a touch that is not in the least loving and besides the fear and the pain that may ensue, what makes that so hard to deal with is the fact that within every cell of our body we know the true healing power of the loving touch we knew as a baby and have never forgotten.
That evening I got to thinking about the many people around the world, probably many in my neighbourhood, who may live a very isolated life every day, often devoid of human interaction, both social and physical. They may be the older ones in the neighbourhood, who have no family close to them and who find it hard to make friends, and there will be those who feel safer, for whatever reason, separated from the world around them. They had created their own bubble of separation long before we were being told to create one for the safety of our health and our communities.
During lockdown, there will have been many living alone who usually have friends and family visit them, but for several weeks they were living in forced seclusion. Those taking care of their vital needs like food and medications were told to drop them at the door and then stand back the recommended two metres if they felt to stay and chat; no touch and no hugs allowed. So how do those who do not live with others, who don’t have the joy of a gentle touch in passing or a stop moment for a gloriously warm hug, feel when there is no opportunity for human touch?
I have the joy of having one my sons and his family living very close to me but as he continued to work out in the community we stayed in our own little bubbles, so no hugs and definitely no touch over the time that was labelled, Level 4 lockdown. The next morning, with the memory of that momentary touch on my shoulder still lingering, the moment I saw my gorgeous grandson on the same path as me, the first thing I said was – ‘do you feel like a hug’ – and he replied by walking up to me, breaking through my invisible bubble and giving me one of his beautiful body-encompassing hugs. It was lovely to have that loving touch, but the feeling was not just on the outside, it rippled right through every particle of my body. As I walked away I have to admit that I felt a bit like a naughty child who had done something wrong by breaking the lockdown ‘rules’, but that didn’t last long as any feelings of ‘wrong-doing’ were swept away by the love and the warmth of that embrace.
The healing power of touch can break through so many barriers and bring people together, if only for a moment, but the memory of that touch may linger on for a very long time. We all know that a tender touch can soothe the cry of a baby, ease the pain and the fear of someone close to you, and remind a person who is in the last phase of their life that they are still loved and not alone.
A few weeks before lockdown I visited a dear friend in the hospital. She was 97 years old and had lived on her own for a long time, but in recent years she had had carers come to her home every day, helping her with the practicalities of life. This day she was tucked up in her hospital bed in a very deep sleep as her body healed from its latest spell of un-wellness. She looked so child-like, innocent and very vulnerable. Following a strong impulse, I put my hand into my bag and brought out a little tub of massage cream I had with me and very gently began to massage her face and then her hands. She didn’t wake or even stir during the 15 minutes I continued to gently massage her, but at one stage I could feel her body settle even deeper into her healing sleep. I left her sleeping knowing that may have been the first time in many years that she had received such a loving and intimate touch, and what was so lovely was that it felt as beautiful for me as I am sure it must have been for her at some level. A few weeks later, during lockdown, she peacefully passed away.
So, what can those of us who live alone do to replace the loving touch we may be missing? Perhaps just by taking the time to sit quietly and to very delicately massage our face would be a simple but beautiful way to start. Then there are our hands which we often take for granted, with fingers that are super sensitive and have the ability to touch with the utmost delicateness. How would it be to make the space every day to massage them ever so tenderly like we would the very sensitive and precious hands of a baby? What a wonderful opportunity this would be to reconnect to our beautiful selves through our own loving touch.
Yes, it can be ever so simple, and the profound feeling of connection that comes from any tender moment of touch, whether it is from ourselves or from others, can bring us the healing and the intimacy that deep down within our body we know so very well and will never ever forget.