As we approach the holiday season it is a wonderful time of year when love and kindness rule our actions. It’s also the time of year when we reminisce about our friends and loved ones no longer with us. When I woke up this morning my sister, who passed away several years ago, was on my mind. My sister taught me so much over the years. She was diagnosed in her early 20s with multiple sclerosis. Over the next 30 years, the disease chipped away at her body. By the time she reached her 40s she was a quadriplegic. I could write for days about what she taught me and how walking through this experience changed me.
At the end of her life, my sister was in a nursing home. Luckily it was located two miles from my house, so the short distance allowed me to see her every day. One day I visited her and when I walked in she asked me for help. I said, “Sure, what can I do?” She then led me step-by-step through a process I could tell she had given much thought. The first thing she asked me to do was to remove the equipment from around her bed. Once I did this she asked me to grip her under her arms and pull her as high up in the bed as I could. She wanted her head as close to the top edge of the bed as possible. Next, she asked me to raise the head of the bed up so that she could sit up as if sitting in a chair. She then told me to put my left hand on her left shoulder and my right hand on her right shoulder. After doing this she told me to lean her forward so that her back was about 3 to 4 inches from the bed. Once she was leaning forward, she asked me to place each one of my arms under hers. Finally, she told me to put my head on her shoulder in the crook of her neck and squeeze until she said stop. I did as I was told without asking questions. When I was finished, we reversed the process in silence.
When everything was back to its original position, she spoke. She said one of the things she hated about being a quadriplegic was that she could never get a proper hug. She said that was because she was dead weight and it was hard for her and the other person to get into the right position. Also, she said that if she’s in her wheelchair this created additional problems. She said that the other person was always off-balance regardless of the angle of approach. She said this caused the hug to feel more like a pat rather than a hug. She desired a proper hug; one that was long and engaged the only part of her body she could feel. I wanted to cry.
As I thought about my sister this morning, I was saddened as I thought of the limited opportunities we have to give or receive a hug. Hugging is discouraged in most workplaces, and the fist pound, a 2-second punch of the knuckles, is quickly replacing the handshake. As I spend time with family and friends, I often remember how my sister taught me never to underestimate the value of a hug. Be sure to hug today!