After my mother died we were like six orphans living in an empty house looking after each other. It wasn’t exactly like that but that’s how it felt.
Most of us have lost family members and we all know that people deal with it differently. Some wear their hearts on their sleeves and others keep it to themselves. I remember being a hard-case teenager, driven to move forward and forget about the past. I remember when whats-his-name’s behaviour was once explained by having lost his mother and my reply was “What!? That was over a year ago!” as if everyone else in the world just bit the bullet and moved on. People come, people go. Next!
When my mother died my sister Rachel was fifteen and she didn’t just wear her heart on her sleeve, she wore all her organs, feelings, needs and wants right out there for the rest of us to share in. Not only were we expected to embrace this but to adapt, conform and get in touch with our own emotions as well as hers.
“I haven’t had my three hugs today!” She would declare. What could you do? The girl had just lost her mother so fine, I’d give her a hug. I guess my mother must have hugged her a lot for her to need all of us to fill that void, but this angry teenager wasn’t really into it.
The thing is, Rachel wasn’t taking hugs, she was giving them. She was preventing us from each living in our own little worlds and having only living quarters in common. She was making sure we each connected with her daily, acknowledge her, her presence, her person and consequently ourselves. And of course, you can’t go around just hugging Rachel when there are four other people in the house, can you?
Eventually I wasn’t just acquiescing, trying to make Rachel feel better. Eventually I was participating. Initiating. Needing hugs of my own.
Then I moved to Montreal where people kiss each other all the time instead of hugging. Left cheek, right cheek. (My left not yours – it would take too long to keep figuring out which is your left cheek!) Suddenly hugs became a very intimate thing, just for family, and all this cheek kissing is what you do instead of shaking hands. In fact, shaking hands is kind of insulting in some circles. When in Rome…
Then I came back to the land of hugs and suffered in limbo for a time as I readjusted: people would lean in for a hug and I’d be leaning in for a kiss there’d be this awkward collision of noses and chins, unintentional gropes.
And now I find my world is pretty huggy; family, friends, neighbours, Santa Clause…
But sometimes, I just have to say, “I haven’t had my three hugs today!”