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The Power of Touch During Grief

Ask anyone who has recently lost a loved one what they miss most. Chances are, they miss the physical and emotional benefits of touch the most out of everything. As humans, we crave touch. Mother Teresa once said that even more than poverty, hunger and physical suffering, the lack of love is what makes people die every day. The healing power of touch is based in a biological need; in grief, this instinct is heightened because we have lost someone who has touched us both physically and emotionally, says the Huffington Post. Embrace not only helps calm angst and bring the recipient some comfort and relief, it meets an actual physical need for touch — critical to anyone on a journey through grief. Monday January 21 is National Hugging Day. Reach out and comfort someone who is grieving. This critical part of bereavement in San Mateo and elsewhere can impact someone’s life much more than you know.

Benefits of Touch

Touch provides several benefits, not just for the one doing the touching but for the dying as well. According to Psychology Today, touch increases levels of the hormone oxytocin, which lowers stress hormones. This benefits everyone, even infants, but especially the elderly and dying, where touch is proven to promote sleep, decrease heart rate and lower blood pressure. In addition, touch can also decrease pain, isolation, and anxiety, helping to ground the receiver and decrease sensory deprivation. But even more than all that, touch is a powerful form of communication. It can say a lot of things: “I love you,” I am here for you,” “I think about you often,” and “you will be alright.”

On the flip side, it can make the giver feel useful, comfortable in the knowledge that they are supporting their loved one. Touch, in the end, eases the transition from life to death. After that loved one is gone, the giver now benefits from being the receiver of touch as they navigate their grief.

The power of touch begins in the first moments of life. In fact, this is the first of the senses to develop in infants. A newborn’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being are all reliant on their mother’s tender touch. This is why babies are placed on their mothers’ chests right after birth. Babies sense the heartbeat and benefit from the gentle cradling of their parents’ arms. Touch is like nourishment for the soul, releasing endorphins in the brain that help us feel better.

Curbing Isolation

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows just how lonely the grieving process can be. Yes, you may have many people around you who are offering to help. However, even in the midst of all the well wishes, isolation can be pervasive. You may feel that no one really identifies with your feelings at a time when we really need someone to fill the emotional void left by such a big loss. Yes, you may have many friends who care deeply for you and your situation; however, they may assume you’re doing OK, recovering well, and moving on. You may be hesitant to cry on their shoulders, as you don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable. Now is the time to think of your needs, though. You need that hug, those pats on the back, those tender embraces that bolster your support system.

Cultural Expectations

Western culture is one of the “pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap” philosophy that remains a persistent and pervasive presence in this country. Initially, you will be met with many hugs and well wishes upon the news of your loss. But day after day, the level of touch you receive will drop off dramatically. Whether it’s because as a collective unit, people don’t feel comfortable with touch or we ourselves don’t feel comfortable reaching out for support from others, the result is that we feel isolated and abandoned even though we need the support. Sadly, we have been taught that reaching out for help makes us appear needy and weak.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The truly strong will reach out, lean on their supports, ask for company, ask for hugs, and ask for help. Think back to a time where you lost someone you loved. When you think of them now, you likely remember the bear hugs of your dad, the snuggles with mom, the intimacy of a partner. Those feelings of physical touch are so strong that we crave those moments more than anything else. Massage therapists even use a particular therapy based in the belief that enhancing circulation throughout the body helps release the emotional, physical and spiritual blockages that exist in people who experience grief.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We understand everyone grieves differently, but many people benefit from the connections they make in support groups or as part of activities with others who are also grieving. That’s why we offer many bereavement services to help people as they navigate the grieving process. Contact us at 888-978-1306.