By Barb Arland-Fye
Refraining from hugs became one of the greatest challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic for me as a mom (and a friend, too). Elbow bumps with my grown sons who live in their own homes left me feeling empty. However, I understood the necessity of self-sacrifice for the sake of others.
Hugging takes on special meaning in our family because it did not come naturally for our older son Colin, who has autism. I remember asking him for a hug when he was a child and watching as he approached awkwardly and leaned toward me. I showed him how to wrap his arms around me and demonstrated a hug. It was not a one-time demonstration, but a loving gesture we had to grow into.
“Some children don’t understand the purpose of hugging and need to be taught this social convention,” says “The Conversation,” a nonprofit, independent news organization dedicated to unlocking the knowledge of experts for the common good (theconversation.com). I found that to be the case with Colin. Once he got the hang of hugging, he was all in!
Our son Patrick, seven-and-a-half years younger than his brother, has always been a hugger. I think I savored his hugs because they were natural and warm and conveyed that sense of love all moms desire. Gradually, Colin’s hugs have become natural and warm and until the pandemic struck, we never said goodbye without one.
I missed that ritual until this past weekend, when the CDC updated its guidance, relaxing COVID-19 pandemic precautions for people who have been vaccinated. Everyone in our family has been vaccinated, so as my husband Steve prepared to take Colin home to his apartment Saturday night, I asked Colin for a hug. He smiled warmly at me and asked, “I can give hugs again?” “Yes,” I said, “in our family.” I wrapped my arms around him and he instinctively wrapped his arms around me. I will savor the memory of that hug for a long time to come.
Knowing the value of hugs in my own family, I felt empathy with the members of the L’Arche Clinton community, when I read their spring appeal recently. L’Arche provides homes in Clinton where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers, and create inclusive communities of faith and friendship. Their appeal read, in part:
“The pandemic of the past year has been hard on everyone, but at L’Arche we’ve had the privilege of learning from our core members, who have shown us how to smile through it all! Our core members have learned that hugs aren’t safe, and masks are necessary even when they make us hard to understand, and they’re still smiling. They’ve kept smiling through our Zoom community events, even when they would rather be together to celebrate our birthdays, play Bingo and Pictionary and for our sing-a-longs and exercises.” The pandemic has also challenged the community’s ability to achieve its fundraising goals (visit larcheclinton.org if you would like to help). I’m hoping that the L’Arche members —who truly are family to one another — will soon be able to hug again!
In his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis says, “The experience of love in families is a perennial source of strength for the life of the Church” (No. 88). We express love in many ways in our families. In our family, the return of the hug is a concrete, reassuring expression of love.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)