This I believe: human touch at the right moment is one of the most important gifts we have.
Eight years ago my Great Aunt Eunice died. I had the opportunity to visit her the Christmas before she passed. You see, Eunice was everybody’s favorite aunt. She was really my dad’s aunt, and when she died she had made it to one hundred years old—she lived from 1900 to 2000—and she had traveled many places in her life. She taught kindergarten, and although she never married or had any children of her own, she had lots of “children” who remembered her fondly as their first teacher…some of whom would come back to see her when they themselves were well into their forties and fifties.
My sister and I loved going to Eunice’s as kids; we felt as though her house was a microcosm of exotic places we had never been to. Eunice filled her home with alluring mementoes from Japan, China, Guatemala, Mexico, and beyond. She had some unique silver straw-spoons which I think came from Thailand, and whenever we went to the house in Sacramento (or as I like to call it, “Sack-of-Tomatoes”), she allowed us to use them for the root beer floats she served us.
Getting back to Christmas of 1999…at that point in her life, Eunice had become a shadow of her former self. She no longer lived in the fantastic house filled with silks, ceramics and silver…and love. Instead, because of the dementia that had gradually pushed her farther and farther from her physical body, she was staying in a tiny nursing home. Eunice could not feed herself, was not walking, and rarely spoke. She no longer seemed to know her brother or other family members.
I remember my dad approaching her and saying something to her like, “It’s Bob, Eunice. Merry Christmas,” and rubbing her shoulder. She looked up at him but there was no recognition.
It just so happened that the same day we were there, a Christmas card had arrived from my mother. I read it to her, and as I was reading I couldn’t be sure, but Eunice’s face registered something. I told her the card was from my mother Pam.
“It’s Megan, Aunt Eunice. That card is from my mom,” I repeated. She mumbled something unintelligible. Then, I knelt down to hug her in her wheelchair.
“I love you, Aunt Eunice,” I said, looking her straight in the eye.
And then it happened: the haze in her eyes cleared if just for a moment as she returned my gaze and said, as plain as anything, “I love you, too,” and she began to tear up.
I squeezed her hand. Shakily, she returned that squeeze and did not let go.
This I believe: because of touch, she knew love. Aunt Eunice may not have recognized us that day, but she knew we loved her. The ability to touch another human being will always be precious.
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