I’m still learning how to hug. Growing up in my family, except for the occasional outright throwing of ourselves at our rigid parents, hugs didn’t happen for us kids. We didn’t see our parents hug or kiss each other. As a child, I remember occasionally scrubbing red lipstick kisses from my cheeks. My mother sent me off to college with a quick dry peck on the forehead. But I cannot remember being hugged.
For decades I avoided hugs. They were uncomfortably close encounters that mostly made me cringe and feel ravaged for a torturously long time.
My sisters and I only began to hug each other once we became adults and left home. Maybe they, also, learned that hugs could take the place of words when there were no words. Like when my daughter died and my world stopped. Everyone hugged me. Those hugs may have been what brought me back to life.
Hugging is good for you. It says so all over the internet: Hugs reduce pain and stress, improve communication, and make you happier and healthier in general. So giving and receiving hugs has become one of my ongoing projects. I’ve worked hard to figure this hugging-thing out. Three of my most memorable hugs over time:
Decades ago, reuniting with an old friend, we hugged and our earrings got hooked together, prolonging the hug so that we were stuck together until someone could help unlock our ears.
Hugging my babies. Tightly, as I danced them around the house, reeling and swerving wildly to music. As they became toddlers they yanked away, to be free of my hold. That pretty much ended the hugging of them.
And finally, after the life-support had been removed from my almost-21-year-old daughter and she was declared dead, and everyone dispersed, I tried to gather what was left of her into my arms and hold on. But it was like hugging a toddler. She was already free from my holding.
Have you ever tried to hug a dead person? It takes at least two conscious beings to really hug. It has taken countless hugs to get to the point where I understand what it means to hold another. And last week, for the first time that I’m aware of, I flew, in joy, to hug a friend without even thinking of how to hug.
Now that I’m getting the hang of it, I wonder, is there any sort of etiquette for hugging?