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A Figurative Hug for When Arms Can’t Reach

Something happens and you’re left staring at the news on the computer screen, absolutely dumbfounded even though the events are all fathomable.  We are not talking about aliens coming down and wiping out whole cities.  We are talking about news that shakes our world but allows the rest of the earth to keep revolving as if nothing has ever happened.  You should be able to wrap your mind around life and death.  Around love and loss.  These things happen everyday.

And that’s what you tell yourself when you are still sitting in the chair, staring at the screen minutes later.

There is nothing you can do.  If you were physically close to the person, you could make them dinner, do a load of laundry, offer to watch their child.  If you were family, you could make phone calls, schedule a visit, help with the planning.  But if you are far away, on the other end of a computer screen, you can send an email.  You can rally the troops.  You can stare at the computer screen.

You can go in the kitchen and bake a dozen cookies.  You can wrap them carefully and label the box.  You can walk them to the post office, tell the postmaster the story of why you are sending cookies.  You can hope that when they arrive, they are a small good thing; a figurative hug for when arms can’t reach.

What do you do to show love?



1 Sarah { 03.22.11 at 12:42 pm }

Sometimes we all feel helpless. The one thing I realized when my sister found out about her cancer was that it means so much when people reach out, even if there are no right words. Saying they don’t know what to say is always better than staying silent. I always try to remember that now and do what I can.

2 Calliope { 03.22.11 at 1:10 pm }

I cut out crazy ads from magazines and write funny captions and clip coupons for products that shouldn’t exist in the first place.
I do this because when I grieve I go to a very, very, very dark place. A place where only medication and loved ones can bring me back from. And as much as I appreciate kindness and the perfectly phrased card, I also very much, within my grief, needed to be grabbed at the elbow and held firmly into life because it gets slippery.
Cookies sound perfect. I bet they make a great breakfast.

3 iamvulnerable { 03.22.11 at 1:11 pm }

I’m like you, I think, Mel – my default is to cook. And when I can’t, when I’m too far away, I always imagine being able to be in that person’s kitchen, pulling a casserole out of the oven. I’ve been known to send “virtual casseroles” in blog comments.

My sister, who is doing a clinical rotation for nursing school in the mother-baby unit, told me last week about what Hutterite women do when one has a baby. They completely surround the woman with care, assuming all her chores, cooking all her meals, taking care of her home. I am willing to bet that they do much the same in the event of a death or other family crisis. That’s the kind of support I wish we had so much more of in our modern world – nothing can take away the pain of loss or of other difficulties, but it is so powerful knowing that you are supported by those around you so that you can concentrate on the important work of just being with your experience in the midst of a crisis.

4 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.22.11 at 1:15 pm }

Many of my far-flung friends are experiencing loss at the moment. I, too have felt powerless to offer them anything more than words and abiding. I have long arms but at times like this I wish they were waaaaaaay longer.

5 Foxy { 03.22.11 at 1:23 pm }

I love this question Mel. It is the same question that I ask myself when things happen to the friends and family who I can reach out and touch. If this experience with infertility has taught me anything, it is compassion. I may not know exactly ‘what’ someone else is feeling, but I now understand the experience of pain and grief. I understand that simply ‘being there’ can mean so much. Simply saying “I’m here for you. I love you. I am so sorry.” Checking in as time passes. Giving my loved one the space and listening ear to go thru their own process. There is a brilliance in ‘being present’ without words. There is something so special about a friend who can ‘be there’ without asking anything in return, without asking for conversation, without needing you to tell them what you need.

You know, it is a bit ironic, but some of the best support I’ve received has been from the people who can’t just reach out and hug me. I have some local friends who want so much to ‘be there’ for me in my times of need that it is off-putting. It takes more energy for me to push them back. Whereas friends who are at a distance have an advantage, their phone calls, emails, cards, don’t come with any expectations.

I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes it is easier to hug from a distance.

6 Cece { 03.22.11 at 1:31 pm }

I’m trying to figure out this for Jenn right now (Justjenn). I just keep commenting on her blog that I’m thinking of her, and love her and anything she needs to do to get through the day is ok. Nearby friends? Or those that I’m close enough to call on the phone – I’ll call daily just to say hi – so I can hear their voice and know that they are ok.

7 Gail { 03.22.11 at 1:46 pm }

I am a big fan of sending cards. I try to find the perfect card with the perfect sentiment and then I take the time to hand-write my thoughts and feelings for them. I know that when I am down, I enjoy getting cards and looking back at the cards that I’ve kept from various people throughout the years.
If the person lives closer, I am a baker. I usually make a casserole along with sides and dessert. But, I rarely ship my baked goods.

8 Beautiful Mess { 03.22.11 at 1:56 pm }

If the person is a facebook friend, I’ll tell them I thinking of them or ask for love to be sent to the person in my status message. I also, send emails, text messages, or anything else I can think of. Just to lt the person know I’m thinking of them and they don’t have to reply, but that I sending them love. When I was grieving the loss of my mom, I know that helped me. Just to know that there was someone out there I could reach out to is the best thing ever!

9 Barb { 03.22.11 at 3:55 pm }

🙂 I like trying to let people know I’m there but not push too hard. It’s what I always want. Reassurance, love, and understanding and knowing that someone is out there who cares and that when I’m ready, they’re there.

10 Justine { 03.22.11 at 4:30 pm }

Actually, I still bake. I’m going to do the online bake sale for Japan: http://www.thetomatotart.com/recipe/update-on-online-bake-sale-for-japan-meet-the-bakers/. 🙂

11 Junebug { 03.22.11 at 4:58 pm }

I like to write letters. Pick up books that I think my friends, who like books, will like. Sending little care packages with things that remind me of the person or fits the situation.

12 Betsy { 03.22.11 at 5:39 pm }

That’s a tough one. I’ve thought about sending food in the mail lots of times, but never have. My online miscarriage group is awesome. We send each other things all the time. As a group, they sent me flowers when my dog died and again a week later when I had my fourth miscarriage. I am very fortunate to have found these girls that understand what I’m going through!

13 lindsay { 03.22.11 at 6:01 pm }

I hate that feeling when all you can do is say “hugs” or “I’m sorry”. I wish there was a nice way to ask for someone’s information so you could send them that box of cookies or something like that.

14 Jenni { 03.22.11 at 9:16 pm }

I agree with Lindsay – that when it comes to other bloggers I wish that there was a better way to ask for real world information so that I could send a more concrete “distance hug” than a couple of words on the screen. And with friends who are now far away – sometimes you’re still stuck with the same words on a screen, and it’s so hard to figure the right thing to do. I think I’ll try sending letters/notecards. They’re not much better, but they’re tangible in a way that words on a screen aren’t – and they make it through international mail a little bit better.

15 Garden Variety Mama { 03.22.11 at 9:21 pm }

Cookies are a great idea. I try to send something homemade, like maybe a small piece of jewelry or a card that the kids and I made.

16 a { 03.22.11 at 10:52 pm }

I’m not even good at actual hugs – I’d rather move quickly on to inappropriate jokes. So figurative hugs are very difficult for me… But, in my surfing, I do occasionally find things that remind me of people I know only virtually, and I forward them on. I hope that shows that you all don’t just enter my mind when you show up on my Reader…

17 Maren { 03.22.11 at 11:13 pm }

I completely agree with Lindsay. It would be nice if we could send cookies or even a card because one of my favorite ways is just with a simple heartfelt card that doesn’t push or pry but simply lets the person know I was thinking of them. Sometimes an email is equally as nice. I just love sending cute cards more. 🙂

18 TasIVFer { 03.23.11 at 12:34 am }

I’d love to send something, but there’s only one or two people I know an address for – and when they need something it’s not the time to ask. Usually I just send ((HUGS)) because my words are inadequate but I want to say something.

19 Missy { 03.23.11 at 5:23 am }

I like to send actual cards. And since I learned that I cannot amass an entire household of ‘reminders’ lest I be the next episode of hoarders, I started collecting charms. A much smaller version of stuff. I like to find a charm that I think would be special to the person and include it in the card.

20 Carla { 03.23.11 at 9:00 am }

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. As much love as I may have in my heart for someone, the only way they are going to know about it is by my actions and words. I’ve resolved to find at least one thing per month that I can do to show my family and close friends that I love them. Even if it is just the smallest thing–an Email, text, card, whatever, I’m going to make the effort! Even the smallest gestures can have a big impact. I love Missy’s idea for the charms.

21 WiseBursche { 03.23.11 at 9:16 am }

I like to leave words of care when I can’t be there myself.

Sometimes, I will join my hands and pray for the person involved.

Looking at how the Japanese are coping with the disaster, and looking at the brave few who are working at the plant, and all those people who have been affected, I just let it hit me in some corner of my heart. They are on my mind.

Cooking is not my forte.

22 Kir { 03.23.11 at 10:19 am }

you are a gorgeous person inside and out. thanks for sending those cookies to whoever you sent them. It makes me feel better about the world when I know you’re in it.

I send cards, I take out my stash of Mary Engelbriet pictures and quotes and tape them lovingly in those cards and I carry them to the post office or mailbox, hoping that when they reach those hands that they will be full of all the love I sent with them.

23 JJ { 03.24.11 at 10:42 pm }

Your love in the mixture of sugar and butter is one of the best hugs Ive ever gotten. Thank you, thank you.

24 Somewhat Ordinary { 03.25.11 at 10:37 am }

I read this the other day and thought about how kind you are to think of someone like that and how absolutely special the person would feel that you took the time. Then I got to my front porch yesterday. It took my breath away that your arms reached mine. I don’t think I can ever fully express how special you made me feel!

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