Longing for Touch

“Hold me. I’m worried about you.”

“Hug me. I’m scared.”

“Put your arms around me and breathe with me.”

“Grab my hand and don’t let go.”

Mom & Dad ~1939

Daddy was a hand holder and a hugger. His health was fragile, so I often snuggled with him while he fell asleep. Our affection was innocent and sweet. The last time I held his hand, I was 14 and scared. No one had prepared me for death.

“Lie next to me,” he whispered from his hospital bed. I crawled between the tubes and wires and hugged his warm body lying beneath white sheets. We held hands a few minutes before I ran away to hide my tears. I didn’t know it would be the last time.

I married a hugger and spooner. Sex was thrilling, but my relationship with Vic was more about touch. Our physical connection formed a foundation of trust that helped me stay calm and close until his last breath.

My big brother wasn’t a hugger, but when he was dying, I slipped my hand under his.

“Dad doesn’t like holding hands,” my niece said.

“It’s OK,” I told her. “His hand is lying in my open palm.” I longed to feel his relaxed warm hand in mine so neither of us felt alone as he crossed to the other side.

Now, during another stay-at-home winter, I see human friends and family less, and rarely at night. That’s when my dogs and I gather close to the warm woodstove, the Goddess Hestia’s hearth. After I give old Willow a full body rubdown, I caress her white paws. When Willow was young and had dark brown paws, she saved me from drowning in grief after Vic’s death.

“Good girl, Willow,” I croon as I rub her arthritic back legs. Her tail taps against the rug. “Thank you for being the sweetest dog ever,” I say with a scratch behind her ears in places she can’t reach. Her tail bangs hard and long.

At night, young Disco watches my every move. Before 10 pm, her expectant face says, “Isn’t it bedtime?” She wants to snuggle while I read. I get my book and crawl under the covers while she lies beside me with her head on my belly.

I’ve had dogs all my life, but this is the first time I’ve allowed a dog on my bed. As my hand caresses her soft black ears and holds her paw, she lies on top of the covers and presses her body into mine. We’re both rescued by touch.

Bedtime for Disco


How are you managing this time of social isolation, especially if you live alone? Do you see friends or do you have pets? How does it feel to spend more time alone?Covid is harder during this frigid winter when I rarely walk with friends. I see family and friends occasionally, but more often talk to them on the phone, Zoom, or text so no touch is involved. I’m grateful for the warm bodies and quiet snores of my dogs.

For other posts about the importance of dogs in my life, see He’s Only A Dog. For a post about adopting Disco as an SPCA pup, see Artemis Adopts a Pup: A Fanciful Ancient Greek Diary.

  1. Beautiful! I loved reading this post with its holding of hands, hearts and paws. Thank you dear Elaine for sharing the warmth of your winter words and treasured photographs. Being married to a hugger and spooner myself, I get to snuggle every night, ever grateful for the love, warmth and loveliness of my wife’s body next to mine. And have told her many times if she passes before me, I’m going to replace her with one of those tailing banging dogs myself!

    Yes, touch is tremendously important isn’t it and despite receiving, mostly the wrong sort of touch as a child, it never stopped me from reaching out and giving friends hugs when needed. Nor did it stop me from snuggling close in times when I need hugging too. The healing power of just holding someone’s hand is incredible. I love what you wrote about slipping your hand under your brother’s as he lay dying. No need for words just touch. Love and light, Deborah.

    • I’m smiling, Deborah. I got cold last night and nudged Disco to move closer. She’s the world’s best snuggling heating pad. I still long for human touch and that’s become uncommon in this world. I have a few close hugging friends, but now we have the barrier of winter weather and icy roads. Weather will change and there will be more outdoor walks with friends and holding hands–but I wrote this in response to the social isolation I feel during another pandemic winter. Of course, my hearing problems add to the sense of isolation, but that’s another story.

      Knowing a little about your childhood, I feel ever more grateful for the innocent loving touch of my father, grandfathers, and brother. I was innocent and had no idea what other girls were enduring. I agree that touch is often more eloquent and powerful than words which can be a barrier to true heart intimacy.

  2. Elaine, What a great post. Touches something I struggle with Office. Bill and I were very physical with each other, holding hands snuggling cuddling where is meaningful as our sex life. It’s all of it and yes I am very grateful for my little Brinkley who cuddles up next to me every night and rolls over so I can pet her stomach and then curls up and goes to sleep right next to me. I’m glad you kept your hand under your brother’s hand. You both needed that.

    • I know you get it, Mary, because you also live alone in a wintery place with health concerns that make Covid more threatening. I’m grateful you have your pooch Brinkley. My dog Amigo snuggled with me after my dad died. Daisy was waiting for me after Vic’s death, and Willow was waiting at home after my brother’s death. When we don’t have close physical human companions, our dogs keep us connected to body and soul.

  3. COVID has spawned lots of collateral damage, and you’ve put your finger on a big one, loss of touch. Isolation in the new “normal” for many, is dangerous to one’s physical, mental and emotional health. This week, I met again a former colleague who’s just lost her husband. She smiled wanly (and with hollow eyes) as she walked by. Instinctively, I extended my arms to give her a full body hug, which I sensed she desperately needed. (Yes, I was masked.)

    My family showed love in many ways, but didn’t touch much. Like you, I married a hugger. How I love these lines which echo my sentiment too: “Our physical connection formed a foundation of trust.”

    My Aunt Ruthie slept with every Schnauzer she ever owned, the dog warming her feet (and her heart) as they slept. I’m glad your Willow and Disco fill the bill for you during these wintry days and nights.

    What a skill you have, Elaine, communicating deep emotion with the quiet touch of words in this space. I enjoyed it all, especially with the lead story of you and your dad. Thank you! 😀

    • I agree, Marian. I read a piece about the psychological trauma we’ll be left with after Covid. So much of that is about the isolation. We all need full body hugs and I get a few once in a while, but fewer in winter. I’m so glad you hugged your friend because I know she needed touch and to feel your care. It was a gift you had to give.

      The men in my family were huggers, but my mother wasn’t–and, believe me, she didn’t want her hair or makeup messed up. My grandpa, dad, and uncle all loved dogs (and farm animals) and I inherited my love for dogs from them. I love knowing Aunt Ruthie slept with her Schnauzers. Thanks for your kind words, Marian. I want to be uplifting in my writing, but sometimes our communal isolation and grief needs to be mentioned, too. Sending love to you and your warm loving partner.

  4. Beautiful, and validating! Really feeling the effects of loss of touch and other ‘collateral damage’ from Covid. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: affection, touch is as basic to survival as food and water. Touch promotes reassurance, comfort and support. Dogs = unconditional, uncomplicated love. Your photos of dear Willow and Disco are instant heart-openers. Thanks for sharing your life with us.

    • Thank you, Patti. It’s lovely seeing your message here. I read about the collective trauma so many of us suffer because of lack of touch and comfort. My dogs’ devoted love keeps me going. I sit on the couch to read and Disco, the Furniture Dog, hops up and leans into me. Willow lies behind the couch on her bed snoring gently. Life would be colder and harsher without them. Somehow in today’s big snow, I need to muster the energy to get us all outside. That’s one of the things they give me every day. Be well and be safe. Need a kitten?

  5. Thank you Elaine for this beautiful piece. When our older son Mike goes away, we look after Angie his cat. How we love to have her here. She’s a snuggly cat and loves nothing more than being stroked and petted. My husband is the chosen object of her affection. I remember last year when I didn’t go on a cycling trip in the Karoo because of a bad neck and shoulder and I was Angie’s prime caretaker here at our home. What was amazing to me was when she lay on my shoulder while I was half supine on the sofa watching TV or reading. Her purrs seemed to ease my neck pain considerably. I’m sure it was her vibration.
    I’m sure that a hug a day keeps the doctor away.
    We still have to make the decision to have a rescue dog. We’ve always had dogs but not since our last big move from our old home. The two cats came to our townhouse – both gingers, one male one female, both characters of note. I reckon a dog would propel me to walk more frequently – my husband too. It’s such a joy to watch other people’s dogs playing on the beach or in the lagoon.

    • I love that you have a vibrational healer. Dogs don’t have that talent, but in this frigid weather, Disco makes as much body contact as possible when I sit on the couch or lie in bed. She’s not a human, but dogs know how to love–and she’s warm. I hope you have a baby to hug fairly often since that’s the most wonderful healing touch. I’m snowed in now, so the dogs are especially important. Be well and safe.

  6. My dear friend. I have one wish left, to be alone, just to know how is it! But I had to miss this chance as I lived with Al for so many years. I always cared for him and his comfort to do his work as a writer. And after he’s gone, my wife and my son, Raphael, were there to be concerned. Now they are even more with the grandchildren.
    I also wanted to let you know why I am mainly late to comment on your heartfelt posts. I am retired and usually must have time, but believe me, there are a lot to do, and I wonder how the day passes by!
    Anyway, life goes by, and we all try to make the best of it. By the way, I must say that I am not that hugging type! I always feel not so easy to be too close to others, although it is not so wrong in the corona times! Enjoy your time with your beautiful friends; I love dogs very much.

    • Aladin, I’m an extrovert by nature, but had to learn to be an introvert because that’s the lesson given to me by life from my husband’s death and hearing loss. Wonderful that you lived with Al and worked with him and now you have your wife, son, and grandchildren. I think this is the way humans are supposed to live. Together. In community. I agree there’s lots to do. I’m supposedly retired but working all the time to keep my house going, make healthy food, keep the woodstoves loaded, the dogs walked (my young one was wild today), books, blogs, and articles read, and leave time to work on my own writing projects. You need a vacation. It sounds like one is coming.

      • Actually, these days everything is upside down! In our family, near or far, vaccinated or not, almost everybody has a positive test with covid. Therefore, there can’t be any trip so far. Take care, dear Elaine.

        • I’m sorry your trip won’t happen, but I hope you have a peaceful weekend. The same is happening here with Covid, although vaccinated people are getting something mild like a cold or light flu, whereas unvaccinated often have severe cases and end up in hospitals or morgues. Be well.

  7. What a beautiful piece, Elaine! You wrote that you want to be uplifting in your writing, “but sometimes our communal isolation and grief needs to be mentioned, too.” Absolutely. And when isolation and grief (and other hard emotions) are written about and shared as honestly and openly as you do, I find them uplifting in another kind of way in that I no longer feel as isolated.

    Ah, dogs. Our almost-one-year-old puppy Blue (now over 60 pounds) is the first dog we’ve ever had that has been allowed on the bed. Now that I spend more time in my bed than ever before (given my issues with orthostatic intolerance), I can’t tell you (but I’m sure you know) how much comfort I get from snuggling with Blue. And he makes me laugh the way he lies on his back in the middle of the bed with his limbs splayed out,
    waiting for me to rub his belly. And, as you also write, having a dog gets me outside for walks every day. Such gifts.

    My relationship with touch is somewhat similar to what Deborah describes: “despite receiving, mostly the wrong sort of touch as a child, it never stopped me from reaching out and giving friends hugs when needed.” Being married to a gentle, kind, and passionate man for over 40 years has been healing beyond words.

    This morning on my walk I felt the first hint of spring in the air (even though the ground is still covered with snow and it’s below freezing), which decreases the sense of isolation, as does imagining the posts you will write when your Monarchs return!

    Sending love and big hugs your way, Anne

    • Thank you, Anne. You’re so wonderfully supportive. The isolation is getting to me, but I’m not alone. Besides Covid, many of my friends are up for a winter drive into the country (half an hour) and I’m not enthusiastic about driving into town in a snow storm. I’m glad I was plowed out after 12+ inches of snow a few days ago and the days are longer. The wind was so wild it was hard to tell how much snow we got, but it will melt. It always does. People tend to hide out in the winter here and the local wineries and restaurants are warm weather destinations. I do miss hugs and Disco is an extreme snuggler. She prefers the middle of the bed and I have to roll her to make room for myself.

      I received only kind and appropriate touch from men and women as a child, so I’m fortunate. My husband was a gentle one, too, and I’m grateful for all the hugging and loving touch my life had for 42 years. Sometimes Vic shows up with hugs in dreams. There is a hint of spring–just a hint–and I’m writing about Monarchs, so they show up in memory and in photos I took which remind me of the beauty and also what happened during 5 years of protecting them. This year, I finally signed up to be a Monarch “waystation” with Monarch Watch–a stopover on the migration paths with flower nectar and milkweed for Monarchs. My fields were already waystations with the right plants before registering, but they asked for size of the area with Monarch friendly plants and put mine in the category “colossal.” I got a good laugh from that, but compared with a small front yard waystation with a few milkweed and flowering plants, 20 acres of milkweed and wildflower fields are colossal. On the other hand, the right plants, even just a few of them, can save a migrating Monarch. I’m registered! Blessings and warm days ahead.

  8. You’re all incredibly talented in how you express yourselves and demonstrate your willingness to open your souls to each other.

Leave a Reply