Never underestimate the power of a touch, of holding a hand, of a really good hug.
We went to see my grandmother today. She’s 96 1/2 and making the most of her days. Today she advised us to try writing with our left hands so that if we ever lost the use of our right hands we’d be prepared. (She has lost the use of her right hand due to a stroke) She also told us her thinker wasn’t fast enough as she was having trouble getting the words she wanted to use to surface when she talked with us. She grinned a lot as we sat on the front porch of her nursing home, enjoying the autumn sunshine and breeze. She always asks us what we’ve been doing and didn’t disappoint today. The girls shared about school, boyfriends, hobbies, etc. Grandma always asks for them to bring her pictures they’ve taken or drawn, come play music for her, share and leave bits of themselves with her to enjoy when we’re not there.
You need to know something about my grandmother. When we were little and growing up, Grandma was “guarded.” She was the type to not talk a lot about emotions or even faith, although she was always quick to tear up and we’d joke that whenever family got together we better get the kleenex box for her and keep it nearby. I loved her but it was kind of a distant feeling of love. She was proper, which made me feel the need to act “proper” when I was with her. I never knew, as a child, that grandma played piano, painted, or wrote stories and poetry. I wish I would have! I knew she and grandpa had been missionaries – that fact seemed to dwarf all the other stuff in their lives and was the primary identity they had in my mind.
[A quick funny story] Grandma has always liked chocolate covered cherries so years ago I took her a box I’d received at work. I’m not particularly fond of them. These cherries just so happened to have liquor inside of them. My mom and dad were there, too, and my dad was the first to notice. He told grandma, who seemed not to be concerned in the slightest but kept eating them. Dad teased her saying, “I thought you were a member of the ladies’ temperance union” (abstaining from alcohol). Grandma replied without missing a beat, “Well that was a long time ago.”
Last year Grandma got pneumonia and we thought we might lose her. We think she also had a stroke. She made it through, however, and was soon better than before – more cheerful, more open, light-hearted and talkative, delightful. I was so happy to get to know my grandma in this way, even if it was in her very old age. I feel in the last year I’ve connected with her more than in all the other 43 years of my life. At the end of our visits, before we leave her we take a hold of her hands, squeeze them gently, and pray for her. One time as I finished my prayer, Grandma spontaneously began praying out loud. She prayed for me and for the girls (John wasn’t with us that time). I was surprised and touched. I don’t think I’d ever heard her pray for us. It was very loving. She’s confined to a wheelchair but when we hug her she leans into the hug, resting her head against ours, even sometimes giving a little sigh or “hmmmmm” of contentment. I have a feeling she doesn’t get very many hugs these days where she lives. It’s almost as if she’s trying to soak up the love in the embrace because she needs it so, hungering for touch.
As I was leaving her last visit, I hugged her a long time and then said, “I love you, Grandma.” She replied, “I love you, too, honey” with such warmth that as I walked out of the building that day I had to wipe away tears. Those few words, spoken in genuine love from my little bent-over grandma, will be with me always.
For some reason God made it so that not only is it pleasing to our nerve endings to be touched, but it affects us emotionally as well. Touch can actually relieve stress, comfort us in sadness or loneliness, and just make us happier. We all desperately need to connect with others, to touch and be touched whether in hugs or by the hand, or in the heart. Don’t underestimate the power of a touch.