Hugs are underrated, beautiful, healing things. They can act like a life preserver when you’re caught adrift in life’s turmoil. They can ground you, reset you, free you just enough from whatever’s bothering you to make you want to lift your head and keep going. They can say, silently, but quite powerfully: You mean something, you’re important.
Great hugs are intimate things—and by that I don’t mean romantic things.
My novel, Like Jazz, is a romance, so of course there are some hugs between the main characters that portend of something beyond friendship. But the most important ones are those that say: “I care. I’m here. I’ve got you.”
One of the most memorable hugs of my life came from someone outside my normal circle of friends, yet with whom I’ve always shared an easy rapport: my sister-in-law. My father, brother and I were in a hospital waiting room, and she was with us. Two doctors had just informed us that my mother’s brain had gone too long without oxygen—the damage she suffered was extensive. Moreover, two of her other major organs (heart and kidneys) were permanently damaged as well. When we asked the doctors for guidance, they said they would not continue to keep her on life support. My dad, brother and I made the heart-wrenching decision to turn off the machines keeping my mom alive.
It was the most devastating experience of my life. Losing Mom so quickly, so unexpectedly, easily surpasses all other painful things I’ve known.
As soon as the doctors left us alone, I nearly buckled. I sobbed uncontrollably. My brother and father seemed shell-shocked. My analytical dad has never been big on expressing emotion or comfortable consoling others, so I couldn’t turn to him for solace. It was my sister-in-law who gave me exactly what I needed at that moment. She crossed the room, pulled me into a hug, and held on. Held me and let me cry. Held me through my pain. It’s been nearly ten years, yet tears threaten as a write this. As I remember. Mom.
Yet memorable hugs aren’t just about helping you get through the tough times. One of my best friends in high school was a very physically affectionate person. I wasn’t. I’ve become more so over the years, but back then I’d shrink from embarrassment when she’d hug me. And she’d do it in front of other people! So mortifying. Of course, my obvious discomfort with it only fueled her desire to keep doing it.
The thing was: I needed it. I needed a friend to say all those things that only a really great hug can: “You matter. I care.” I’d been taught not to tell family secrets to anyone, but keeping in family problems—especially when you’re in high school and everything seems like a bigger deal than it does in any other time of your life—took its toll. In a way that no one before her seemed to be able to, this friend would usually end up coaxing out of me whatever was bothering me. She’d give me her shoulder to cry on, and I’d allow myself to be held. It always helped.
One of the most pivotal scenes in Like Jazz revolves around a hug. Such a simple thing. Pure. Precious. Receiving an embrace when you need it, even if you don’t think you do, can be a soul-healing experience. For one of my characters, it was transformational to know someone cared. For the other, giving it wasn’t optional. It was such a fundamental aspect of her nature to comfort a friend in pain or distress.
But we don’t have to wait until someone’s upset in order to embrace them. We can do it anytime. When I was growing up, I remember a public service ad that asked, “Have you hugged your kid today?” It’s worth remembering and expanding upon. Have you hugged—really hugged—your child, spouse, parent, partner, or friend (including the 4-legged furry variety) lately? Maybe it’s cheesy, but guess what? Hugs are free and unlimited. They’re important and worthwhile.
They make a difference.
We always think we’ll have many tomorrows in which to tell someone we love them, we care. Losing my mom taught me that sometimes we run out of tomorrows. If you remember one thing from the many hundreds of messages/ad impressions you’ll see this day, I hope you’ll take advantage of today to make a difference to someone you love. Give ‘em a hug.
Heather’s debut novel, Like Jazz, is now available from Bold Strokes Books.