My youngest and closest sister Peggy committed suicide. She was married to a man who used her insecurities and need for love to control her. She could never quite measure up to his expectations, much like she experienced growing up. My guess is Peggy gave up when she realized there was no love intended for her, when even the man who supposedly loved her the most, also slapped and hit her, and used his power of touch to intimidate and dominate.
My mother drifted away from her husband and five children, little by little, saloon by saloon, man to man. While my father kept the family together, his North Star became the disappointment of what his life had become. Peggy believed, as children do, that she somehow contributed to his orientation and years later I still see her at times laying a comforting hand on my father’s shoulder to try to break through his curtain of indifference. She could see the best in others, even when it was not apparent, but could not appreciate how bright and beautiful she was and, eventually, could not see the possibilities of a brighter future for herself.
I was stationed with the Navy 700 miles away when an emotionally-agitated Peggy called three days before her death. Four decades later I believe it would have made a difference if I could have been with and held her, instead of the cold comfort of phone-words. I was ignorant to the potential of the power of touch.
My wife of three years did her best to comfort me. I remember the funeral was a switchback of old memories and present grief, of what-if’s and why-did’s, with the most important being: why did Peggy at age 25 want to die?
After the funeral, we stopped at my wife’s home, a place I always found comforting and somewhat foreign. Her family loved, supported and accepted each other unconditionally and with enthusiasm. One of the reasons I asked her to marry me was the realization that, in addition to loving her deeply, I also needed her positive upbringing to help me be a good husband and father.
Walking into the house, my mother-in-law stopped what she was doing, walked over, and without a word, folded me (who had never been touchy-feely) into her arms and just held me, occasionally rubbing her hand across my shoulders.
Two things happened: I cried like I’ve never cried before or possibly since. And I realized the tremendous power of touch to transform, either positively or negatively, to corrupt or to heal, a power that must be used in the right spirit. My mother-in-law wanted only to comfort and so she did, not just in that moment but to this day. I still remember that touch and in so doing hope in some small way I have comforted and touched others.
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