I spent time taking care of my Mother, Amybelle Adassa Thompson, daily in the months before she died on April 20, 2018. My morning routine with her began with sitting next to her, talking to her about her dreams each night, while holding her hands. To get her out of bed, I would assist her to a sitting position, wrap her arms around my waist, wrap my arms around her as well and pull her up. After helping her in the shower, I would give her a full body massage with warm oils. When we walked together I always held her hand.
Though time consuming, I realized the necessity of human touch for her. She was going through the trauma of dementia and so were we. I remembered all the studies about the importance of touch for infants and thought for sure it was the same for the elderly, many of whom are neglected and spend excessive time alone daily. No touch. Limited social engagement. I was intentional about touching her, hugging her, holding her hands. Giving her life in the midst of our dying.
One day, she had a particularly good day. She was lucid and talkative. She was awake for most of the day. She walked on her own. I told her as much, letting her know how excited I was that she had a good day.
She: “Yes. That nice lady comes by every day and takes good care of me. She is a minister. You might know her. When she comes she massages me and takes good care of me. She is a nice lady.”
Me: “What lady?”
She: “I don’t remember her name. It will come back to me and I will tell you.”
After a few minutes she said: “I remember. Her name is Karen. She is a minister. Do you know her?”
Tears came to my eyes. It was my first experience of her not knowing who I was. I cried because my Mother was gone. I cried because she no longer knew me. And I cried because she remembered and knew that “Karen” was taking good care of her. That was most important. I am still crying.
In the midst of this age of distancing, I am grieving the loss of many things, including my parents. My Father, Isaiah Augustus Thompson, died on March 21, 2020 from COVID-19. I wonder if we realize that we lost something vital to our existence, even before social distancing became normative for our lives.
This morning as I pondered living in these days of loss, “untouched” arrived. One day, we will be able to touch each other again. I hope we do so with gratitude for warm skin and the sounds of heart beats. Reminders of our humanity.
by Karen Georgia A. Thompson
with arms outstretched
we invited touch
infants with knowing
demanding to be held
we journeyed as children
holding hands as we forged our independence
kicking and screaming we demanded
the touch of warm skin
the sound of another’s heartbeat
to comfort us
soothing our fears
calming our anxieties
we walk side by side
our adultness defining
new terms of engagement
with a world we learned to touch
when we were alone or afraid
we now rub elbows or wave from a distance
we grow distant moving further away
from heart sounds
from the warmth of human skin
we kick and scream
angry at the disconnect
we feel and cannot see
untouched in social bubbles
we grow cold
a condition of our isolation
forgetting we are the same
forgetting we are love
forgetting we are humanity
17 January 2021
Olmsted Township, OH