I Don’t Want Your Hug:
A grieving mother’s meditation on the subject of hugs.
By Carrie Thompson
I’ve always thought of myself as a “hugger.” I’ve offered hugs to say hello after being apart and to say goodbye when parting for a while. I’ve given hugs to welcome, to comfort, to
congratulate, to console.
I never thought much about hugs — neither giving nor receiving them—until my son died of suicide. Now, I can’t get them out of my head: they are my new little mental fascination as I consider, catalog and categorize them into groups and subsets and try to make sense of them. My contemplation is both a distraction and a lifeboat, a way to make sense of senseless loss and colossal loneliness and profound, abiding grief.
First, I’ve realized that the power of a hug depends entirely on the context: who’s giving or
receiving it; the moment or emotion that occasions it. Hugs occur for a myriad of reasons, have many different durations, and are given to many different people. Politeness demands asking first: Need a hug? Can I hug you? Still, I’ve always given them freely if asked, offered, and accepted.
Ever since my son died, I have been turning hugs away with a gentle wave and a deflection: “I can’t right now. I’m not able. Thank you for the gesture; I’ll take a rain check.” It’s jarring to the person offering, but at this point there’s a tenuous dam between a flood of tears and emotion that I am doing my best to hold back. In the darkest moments, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to accept a hug again, but I reassure myself that this is a temporary moratorium and not a permanent state.
I’ve also begun categorizing hugs. While the categories are still fuzzy, the hugs
themselves — the ones given, received, and even refused — stand out like headlights in this fog that envelops my spirit.
The night Ben died, there were hugs to hold us together. These are the ones borne of
desperation, in the moment where the horror and shock are so shattering that the only answer, the only possible remedy, is holding each other, clutching onto someone else so as not to collapse into tiny shards, never to be whole.
My youngest son coming at a run, wrapping his arms around me as shrieks of grief and denial exploded from my body, both of us on our knees, while my husband sobbed on the phone after breaking the news that our beloved son was deceased. He and I clung to each other as we tried to understand, both of our hearts bursting with the shock, despair, and grief. I have no idea how long it was before either of us could breathe, but I remember his presence, trying to be strong for his mother despite his own shock. His arms, his strength even as he too was trying to absorb this awful news, were the only thing that pulled me back from shattering completely. Continue reading