I am blessed to have several dear-to-my-heart young friends who’ve recently welcomed their first baby. Among the discussion points winging around over newborn playdates & on Facebook is an article written earlier this month on the importance of touch in infancy & beyond.
Let’s talk about that “beyond” – as in WAY beyond, as in the importance of touch & the elderly. One of the greatest deprivations olders elders ancient face is skin deprivation, the gentle touch of another person’s hand. Sadly, in today’s culture here in the USA, they get it less & less.
“Skin hunger” is a relatively new concept. Up until fairly recently, we lived in family units. One hundred years ago, America was still largely agrarian, with families typically living with a carriage or street car ride of each other. As airplanes & interstates joined railroads in opening up the continent, people started moving not just across town but across the country.
Grandparents & older relatives, friends who’d once regularly embraced children & their offspring, been pulled into service to hold an infant, soothe a young one, babysit the family, found themselves making do with letters & phone calls. The boy that felt an older man’s arm around his should as he learned to fish now lived in a city high rise. The girl who’s aunt had guided her hands showing her how to use a sewing machine moved out to the coast.
Without going into all the reasons for our society’s current crisis with touch deprivation – hitting old & young alike – will just say that healthy displays of connection seem to get rarer every year.
The laying on of hands really does aid in restoring the troubled soul or soothing the sick. Touch has been used as a therapeutic tool as long as creatures – not just humans – have roamed the earth. Sadly, in our current day – especially over the past 10+ years – we’re touching less, even seeing each other less & less, unheard of in any previous time of our history. What are we doing to our relationship-bound species?
We’re getting so used to it, it’s easy to overlook the reality that loss of contact has long been dreaded punishment, from a “time out” for an erring little one to solitary confinement for prisoners. To pay back a friend for a perceived slight, we might be tempted to give them the “silent treatment.” When some religious communities want to show displeasure with a congregant, they might shun the person. Sends chills down my back just thinking about it!
Not that long ago, business people had regular contact with their clients & coworkers. Now, even that connection is dwindling, as they rely more & more on using computers to do our research, make our client connection, handle problems. Even eighteen years ago, when I worked at a financial services company, it was possible for me to receive a problem, resolve it & receive high praise from the client for my efforts – all without talking to someone on the phone, let alone face to face. That’s scary.
Although John & I currently have a isolated lifestyle – no siblings eager for a visit, far distant nieces & nephews & cousins, good friends busy with their own families – we have a very snuggly relationship. Not just because we’re naturally affectionate, but because we understand the power & importance of touch. With ourselves & others. The other day, I was delighted to see John tearing back to a friend because he realized – totally on his own – that he’d forgotten to give her a parting hug.
It seems that everyone loves to coo at, get close to & touch babies. We tousle the hair of toddlers & hug youngsters. But interactions with the elderly, disabled & ill are another matter. Some loved ones & friends worry that they are too fragile for a hug, or even shrink away because “Grandma looks so old.” Instead of stepping back, we need to feed their need for touch, from letting an older hold a baby or set a child on his/her lap – or holding the little ones close if the elder can’t manage it independently – to holding their hands, wrapping an arm around their shoulder, giving them a hug, talking with them, reading to them, interacting & connecting with them.
Olders elders ancients need more touch, not less, yet too many get too little. We live in abnormal times when it comes to touch, holding, friendly intimacy. There seem to be more barriers to caring touch than opportunities. On every side, isolation seems more & more the norm, the expectation.
We need to turn things around or we as a species will be affected in ways we can’t even imagine. As machines become more like people, people are in danger of becoming more like machines. Touch is an essential factor in our humanity. There is immense power in touch, not just for elders & babies – for all of us.
Diana Spencer was all about the power of touch. She set the bar for members of the royal family by NOT wearing gloves when holding hands with the disadvantaged, disabled & ill. It sent shock waves through Buckingham Palace when she hugged people with AIDS, held their hands & stroked bare arms. When Diana died, I took on her hugging duties, especially with olders elders ancients.
Help ease isolation – hug a loved one today. Reach out & touch a distant friend by phone or write – yes, WRITE! – a letter so they can hold something that you’ve held, read words in your writing, that you wrote.
Stamp out isolation – it’s a killer, a culture crusher.
I touch people. I think everyone needs that. Placing a hand on a friend’s face means making contact. – Diana, Princess of Wales –