My son (who is no longer on Facebook and thus can’t be embarrassed by this anecdote) is not overly-affectionate. As a child, he was a hugger, but by adolescence, a side-armed squeeze of the shoulder was the most I could expect as the Christmas party or hospital visit wound down.
I make this observation not as a criticism, but rather as an acknowledgement that people process emotion differently. Did I miss the little boy who would climb into my lap and wrap his arms around my neck, holding me in his embrace until my heart had re-filled with love? Yes, of course. But I wouldn’t trade him for the insatiably curious, determined, good-hearted young man he has grown into.
That said, about six months ago, after my last serious hospitalization, his hugs began gripping tighter and lasting longer.
Today he came to see me for his final visit before returning to college.
We’re both determined to see one another when he returns for Christmas break at the end of this year–but planned this visit ‘just-in-case.’
He sat down next to me on the bed and wrapped his arm somewhat uneasily around my shoulder. I was so stunned by the unusual gesture that I didn’t know what to do. For a moment, two decades dropped away, and I was certain that–were I to turn and look at him–I would see the churubic face he wore as a toddler instead of the guarded but angularly handsome face that is his now.
His arm on my shoulder made me feel so warm and complete and full of love and I’d just begun to move my hand upward to grasp his when, overcome with the weirdness of it all, he withdrew his arm as I stared at my shoes, too stunned by unfamiliarity to react in a meaningful way.
We talked for a couple hours afterward. It was a good visit. He’s a good man and a good person.
But the whole time I couldn’t help but wonder what it might have been like had I managed to reach up and clasp his hand in time.
You have to act in the moments. They’re all we have.