The hug we waited for, the hug that was taken away
This first-person article is the experience of Sharon Agard, a daughter, mother, and communications strategist in Orleans, an eastern suburb of Ottawa.For more information about CBC’s first-person story, see common problem.
This is our family, with my three children and two sets of grandparents. We are big embracers.
My newly retired parents decided to spend the winter and plan to spend five weeks in my family’s hometown of Sri Lanka. When the pandemic came, we were caught off guard, and they were trapped there for six months.
My father was a heart disease patient, and it was not until July that we were able to find a seat on a safer pod flight home.
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We were worried all the time until they landed safely in Canada.
A few months later, when they stopped at the front door, the children rushed to their Nana and father. They were eager for big, warm, loving hugs, but due to the isolation regulations, I screamed, “Don’t touch!” and stopped them before them.
For two weeks, we have followed the isolation and distance guidelines to keep our distance. We grinned at each other through the glass of their front door, and the children brought all their toys over to play on my parents’ front lawn-so they could enjoy watching their grandchildren play, even if they Can’t touch.
Finally came the day to hug. My children made the “Embrace Day” sign to commemorate the moment we have been waiting for.
Watching the video now is crazy, because you can hear my five-year-old kid say, “I want to hug you for a long time!” I realized how much my daughter and my mother wanted and needed that moment.
Our family is so close-I think distance makes us appreciate this intimacy even more. When it was finally my turn to hold them tightly in my arms, I breathed a sigh of relief. None of us want to let go anymore.
One month later, when the school started, we decided to let our children go to school at home so that we could be closer to our parents. For me, losing time with my grandparents is not worth it. I also want to spend this family time with my parents.
Four months after they went home, we were shocked to discover that healthy and young Nana had aggressive cancer.
It was so shocking. My mother is very active, she walks 5 kilometers nearby every day. The neighbor will ask, “Where is your mother?” It was too sudden.
First of all, her back pain will not go away, and her stomach cramps. Due to COVID, the doctor did not see the patient in person, and the phone did not provide answers to her illness.
Her pain worsened, and finally her doctor told her to go to the emergency room. On December 28, in the emergency room waiting room, the doctor gently told her, “Listen, this is really, really bad.”
At first, they said she would not be on New Year’s Day. They said she would not even survive to be tested or formally diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
But we pushed and quickly tested it. On January 4, it was officially-pancreatic cancer stage 4. We can try chemotherapy to buy more time, but there is no other way. It is said that the survival rate of “silent killer” pancreatic cancer is less than 2%.
We moved her into our home so that we can take care of her and hug her as much as possible.
My mother quickly refused, and died three weeks later. When she breathed for the last time, she was surrounded by all our loving embraces. I hugged her tightly, leaned my head on her chest, and listened sadly as her heart stopped beating.
Now we only have to hug each other-comfort ourselves with all the memories of our hugs.
But I am still troubled by all the hugs I missed due to COVID-19.
Grief during COVID
Then came the funeral. COVID means that we cannot grieve with family and friends. Embraces and mourning are not allowed.
Because she is active in communities in Canada and overseas, more than a thousand people watched the live broadcast of this small ceremony.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook that she never thought she would miss the funeral, but she looked at me in front of the camera and saw my great pain, she just wanted to give me a hug there.
I sympathize with everyone, just like me, they have to grieve during the COVID and cannot get the support of friends and family to tide over the difficulties. In those foggy days after losing a loved one, you really need a lot of hugs.
Personally, I did not deal with trauma well. I experienced severe stuttering and facial twitches, and lost the ability to communicate.
I make a living as a writer and communicator. Talking with people is my bread and butter. Losing the ability to speak is devastating.
Doctors call this a rare reaction to complex psychological trauma. Apart from the great shock and pain I experienced, there is no medical explanation. I received four months of speech therapy and bereavement therapy. Slowly, I regained my ability to speak.
The bittersweet hug returns
Now, the restrictions are being relaxed. We know that people can see each other and get close to each other again. Life is slowly returning to normal-but not for our family.
For me, this is a painful reminder of a hug that will never be there.
The hugs every day are like when I walked in the door and said: “Hi mom, hi dad, I’m home”, and then give them a hug. Or when my mother is cooking, I can annoy her by giving her a sneak bear hug from behind, while she is standing by the stove stirring the food.
Or a hug that accompanies the more important things in life. Achievements at work. Sell ??our home. Children’s milestones. birthday. Anniversary. These celebration moments will not be marked in the same way.
When the children blow out the candles on each birthday, my dad would cry, because for us, without a big hug, a gift would be different. Now I realize that our hug may be the most important part of the gift.
When I checked Facebook and Instagram, I saw people hugging without contact for more than a year, and my heart swelled for them.
Then it immediately fell and collapsed, because I didn’t understand it either.
Sharon Agard is a communications strategist for the federal government and the mother of three children in Ottawa.