I Believe in the Power of Touch
As I watched news clips of recent tornado damage in Enterprise, Alabama, and the destruction of the school my daughter attended in the early 80’s, one heartrending scene replayed for days. Words are useless to describe the anguish of a mother and daughter kneeling on the ground before a white, sheet-covered body of another child. The mother’s left arm rocked and cradled the shoulders of the living child while her right hand repeatedly pulled back and replaced the sheet from the face of the deceased.
When I lived in Florida, how often I heard widows and widowers say, “I look forward to church on Sunday because that’s the only time I get hugs.” How sad to lose a life partner and endure the painful, pregnant absence of touch.
My husband’s mother suffered from Alzheimer’s for three years. She was in a coma, very near death when he paid his final visit. He held her hand, praying for one last sign of recognition. “Mom,” he said, “if you can hear me, please squeeze my hand.” And she did. Thirty minutes later she was gone. But that touch, the simple squeeze of his hand, has brought Jim solace for years.
I’m a writer; without words I’m out of business. But my most poignant memories are not of writing a powerful headline or a cleverly constructed sentence, but of being in the moment through the power of touch – the first time I held my newborn daughter, my first kiss, my father’s last hug, embracing my sister as we watched, in disbelief, the reprehensible destruction of New York’s Twin Towers.
When people we love are suffering, we struggle and search for the right words to ease their pain. Time-worn clichés like: Time heals all wounds; The sun will come out tomorrow; or I understand what you’re going through (when we really don’t) completely miss the mark.
One of my favorite scriptures is found in Luke 6: And all the crowd sought to touch Jesus, for power came forth from him and healed them all.
I never underestimate the power of an empathetic hug, a hand held, the wiping of a tear, or an attentive listening ear. My silent message is loud and clear – I’m here for you. I love you. I pray for your recovery. No words, just flesh on flesh, heart to heart, kindling a fire of healing deep in the soul of the bereaved.
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