Of all the things Coronavirus, COVID-19 has stripped away from us, touch is what I miss most. Being an affectionate person has its downsides, especially during a global pandemic. If you’re a single person and live alone as I do, the comfort of your home and all that’s within it is what you have—it’s all you have. I am grateful to have a small dog who allows me to pour my love into her and returns every ounce of affection I need. All I have to do is beckon her to me and my requests for kisses, loving paw-taps, and lap naps are eagerly given without protest.
While I appreciate my precious little four-legged fur-baby and her ability to connect with me on this level, she cannot replace the power of a human’s touch. As living—breathing sentient beings, we need touch. It is important for our overall health and well-being, and being forced to not take part in something that can sustain us is a hard blow to the heart and mind.
According to Maria Cohut, Ph.D., “Touching, and being touched, activate particular areas of our brain, thus influencing our thought processes, reactions, and even physiological responses.”Medical News Today, September 2018.
As a healthcare worker, a few things that allowed me to connect with our patients was to shake a hand, offer a hug, or lightly pat someone on the back if they were afraid, grieving, in pain, or simply needed someone to recognize that void and seal it up with a small dose of affection. Now, within my six feet of social distance, while wearing a face mask, gloves, goggles, and sometimes other forms of PPE, I cannot offer the one thing I grew accustomed to providing—human touch.
I have not seen my mother since March of this year. I have endured none of her long hugs, cheek kisses, or hand-holding in moments of being uplifted. I do, however, call her every day after my shift. I do this to give her the gift of my voice—to let her know I am okay, that I made it through another day. I appreciate having this mode of connection with her—that she can hear me, but it does not come close to what we established between mother and daughter: a bond that grew because of touch, because of affection. There is something about being able to lean into the comfort of one’s mother and gain a sense of relief from having done so.
Touch is the fundamental language of connection. When you think about a parent-child bond or two friends or romantic partners, a lot of the ways in which we connect and trust and collaborate are founded in touch.Dacher Keltner, Time Magazine, April 2020.
I look forward to the days when I can land into the arms of my best friend, pull my siblings in close for a hug, or gently pat the hand of a loved one for reassurance. Will they ever be around again? And if so, how long will it take? These are questions I pose to myself while pondering the long-lasting effects of this global pandemic and all we have faced because of it. Who we were before is not who we are now, and I am fearful of who we will become once the curve flattens and the number of active cases plummets.
There are pieces of me I can feel fading—losing their strength and as I weaken, I pray to remain whole without completely breaking in half. As I type this article, my dog sits atop our favorite chair, watching me intently. I wonder, “does she need and yearn for touch as well?” and if she does, “is she always happy I provide this for her?” The power of touch is not totally lost on me, not yet, but I slowly feel myself needing its sustainability much more now than I did four months ago.
“Touch has a memory.”–John Keats
And I remember it fondly.