By Don Keelan
One doesn’t reach one’s 80s without having experienced a wealth of both joyous and sad events over one’s lifetime. I have been fortunate to have encountered the former more than the latter.
Like so many of my fellow Vermont residents, I, along with my wife, have remained self-isolated, now entering week number nine. One aspect of the isolation regime has been that we have had several neighbors carry out our grocery shopping. Also enlisted in this effort has been our daughter, Kelly.
Kelly, a nurse at the Rutland Regional Medical Center who lives with her family in Manchester, came to the house the other day with a half dozen or so bags of groceries. She was gloved, doubled masked, and made it quite clear to her mother and me that we were to stay away as she placed the bags of groceries on the porch.
After a few trips from her car to the porch, she was done and, as we got close to Kelly, she was adamant and said, “Mom, Dad, you have to keep your distance and that is at least six feet from me.”
I said to Kelly, all I want to do is to give a big hug for what you are doing for mom and me. She was quick to say, “Dad, your hugs are going to have to wait a little bit longer. It is way too risky for me to give you a hug.”
Old men, and maybe old men who once wore the uniform of the United States Marine Corps, are not supposed to cry, especially so in front of their children. Upon hearing Kelly’s instructions (orders), down came the tears.
Kelly, the ever so observant nurse asked, “Dad, what is the matter, are you crying?” I told her how difficult it is not to be able to give my daughter a hug — one who has been receiving hugs from her mother and me for over 50 years.
Kelly, in her wisdom and ever so gently, told us that the day will come when we can hug again, but not today. That may have been wise advice, but was so hard to accept; we had no choice.
The present pandemic crisis has forced all of us to accept so many restrictions that we once took for granted — traveling, socializing, working, and going to school, church, stores and recreational sites. Personally, only last week I canceled my long-planned trip to Washington, D.C., to visit another daughter and her family.
Fortunately, my wife and I have been able to stay in contact with our children, grands, and in-laws by virtual means — FaceTime and Zoom and, of course, old fashioned as we are, by landline phone calls. This is all well and we are thankful that we can. But it does not replace being able to just place your arms around the one you love and cherish. I seriously doubt that anyone reading this, if told last year, would have believed that in the spring of 2020, hugs would be forbidden.
Kelly gave us instructions on how to handle the groceries. I watched her walk away in her green scrubs, gloves and mask still on as she retreated to her car. It took everything I had to just stand on the porch steps and not go over to her car — something I had done countless times before. She would not want me to do it, so I stood fast.
We will all get through this crisis. It may be within weeks or months, but we will get back to what was once normalcy. In the meantime, we should use the time to reflect on what it once meant to give a simple hug. And just maybe, we should all be getting ready to hug once again, by practicing with a Teddy Bear.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.