From the moment we had to show our love by staying apart, the pandemic took more than my liberty.
If I had fully understood what was about to come between my family and me, there’s no doubt we’d have kissed and held each other one last time, stock-piling enough physical contact to carry us through for however long, we couldn’t know. Love is given through touch. Unlike words, a loving touch wears no disguise, cannot lie, can’t be sentimental and, for most of us, comes naturally. Language is much less reliable.
Separation denied us the opportunity to touch; a wicked virus robbed us of permission. And now, months later, touch starvation is real and it hurts. Among the many cruelties of this cunning virus is the theft of what sustains us to be able to defeat it. Through fear, I am recoiling from anyone on the outside while longing to touch my loved ones.
We come together when we touch and a mother’s touch means you are part of me.
When the TV recently told us that meeting, at a distance, was at last permitted, my youngest daughter messaged asking how soon that could be. Only one other human at a time, this time. Anticipating her arrival was both exciting and distressing knowing the hello hug and greeting kisses were still forbidden. Instead, we beamed at each other broadly, holding out our arms in wide, empty circles to mimic an embrace, both kissing the air at face height until our smiles faded with the torment of enforced detachment.
All her life I’ve tried to keep her safe by being near – on hand. But not one hand could I place on her shoulder, nor at her back, as she was guided in welcome to a corner of the garden where we could sit. Unable to sit near her as before when her body would lean against mine, the measured space between us was a miserable reminder that we are presumed no longer safe from each other. And when our brief time together came to a close, a pang shot through me as she stepped back to let me go, not forward to seal our moment with a farewell peck.
My son must stay miles and miles away, prevented from making any journey which would be broken by an overnight stay and although the phone calls and texts have been upgraded to video-calls, seeing him on screen has been as heart-rending as it’s been heartening. While we talk, I’ve been reminded of how I used to stroke his hair after each fuzzy cut with clippers when he was small, whenever he’s absent-mindedly run his fingers through his now untamed locks.
My boy always had a higher tolerance for my affectionate petting than his two sisters while they were growing up, never thinking to play hard-to-get like them. He’s indulged my maternal instinct to ruffle or smooth, long since such fussing could be excused and even complied with my urge to gently tug his manly beard. And my yearning for his powerful arms around me whenever a surge of his strength and warmth is needed has always been granted willingly.
Don’t Forget Me
My own arms ache to gather up my little grandchildren, to hold them near and to feel the softness of their young skin. How blessed my daughter is to have their clumsy cuddles and to let them gently relax into her comforting ones – accepting, yielding.
Snatching my hand away from my grandson’s outstretched one, months ago now, felt like a cruel rejection I’d hoped he hadn’t noticed, although it’s still a painful memory for his nana.
“We can’t hold hands because we’re not allowed to touch anyone who lives in a different house.”
“No, I’m sorry, I can’t come to have dinner with you later because I have to have dinner at my house.”
“I promise I’ll take you somewhere fun another day because the police say, not yet.”
“Because I love you.”
Don’t think I’m distant. Don’t forget me. Don’t touch.
My heart is full but not broken. Unlike so many, I trust I will be with all of my family again when this crisis has passed. The pandemic may be bond-breaking in some ways but strengthening in others through our efforts to connect with those we love, finding different ways to ‘keep in touch’. And for us, there will soon be contact more gratifying than mere communications and unreliable language. There will be reunions from which no one is missing. We have made it this far unscathed and I’m thankful.
In the meantime, touching must wait.
Written June 2020
Photo by Keenan Constance on Unsplash