Healing In a Hug

The human story. Heart-wrenching. Treacherous. Poignant.

a hug

Something’s Wrong

She sat with her husband across from me in the clinic room looking at the floor. She always looked downward, but today there was something wrong. I chatted with her husband about the new veteran’s hat he was wearing. As I turned to her and asked how she was doing—a question that usually prompts my patients to tell me what I can help them with—she hesitated.  She then turned to her husband sitting on her right and said, “Go outside.”

He had always accompanied her for her medical visits. They are both in their sixties, and I have known them for many years. They are a kind, simple-hearted couple. I don’t recall that she had ever asked him to leave the room before. I wondered what could be so wrong between them that she did not want him there.

He left the room without hesitation. I could tell he did not question her motive or her action—just like any couple that have had a great relationship for many years. Sitting on my round doctor stool, I rolled forward and leaned toward her and asked, “Well, what’s going on?”

She said “Dad is sick, and they sent him away to die.” She often mumbled.  And I was trying hard to understand, especially today since she was speaking in a broken voice. She leaned back in the chair and looked at me without further explanation. I said, “Your dad? Who sent him where?” She said, “It’s my husband’s dad (she called him dad). He is so weak. He did not want to go to hospice or the nursing home, but they could not take care of him.” At this point, it was becoming a little clearer to me, but I thought to myself, Why would she be so upset about an elderly father-in-law? So I asked, “So you’re close to him?”

At this point she looked down again, and tears started flowing freely. She said “I hate it when I’m like this. He is like a father to me.” I thought to myself, Wow, what a nice lady. I rarely see this kind of devotion from a daughter-in-law.  But she continued, “See, my mom thought she was too good for my dad, even though she was an alcoholic. So when I was 9, my mom’s family ran him off.” At this point, she was almost sobbing.

A Pain That Doesn’t Go Away

At 63, a gentle simple lady, who is missing three of her front teeth, was obviously experiencing powerfully painful emotions. But I was still not sure about how her father and her father in law’s illness are connected.

She continued as she cried. She said, “I remember sitting in my dad’s lap at age 9. That was the last time I saw him. He petted my hair, and I felt so safe with him. And he kissed me. After he left, my mom washed my face with soap. I never forgot that day.”

“And I heard in 1967 my father had died. I never got to see him again.” And as she said this, she was crying. I reached out to hand her some tissues. I could tell that this was a childhood trauma of some sort, but still wondered how it connected to her father-in-law.

She wiped the tears from her face and continued, “My father-in-law, since we met became like my father. He treated me as one of his children. He loved me.” She said this as she looked at me periodically, but mostly she gazed at the floor. Then she looked up and said with the saddest face I have ever seen, “He is like my father, and there is nothing I can do for him.”

I was taken aback. Wow! I thought, It never ends, does it? Life. Pain. Even at the ripe age of 63, you still have to deal with childhood trauma? I felt sad for her, for all of us, for our human condition.

She said, “I don’t want my husband to see me like this. He has enough on his mind.” Then it all made sense. A little girl lost her father, then found a kind man who became her father. And now she is losing a father. Again!

Healing In a Hug

I took care of her medical issues and at the end I gave her a hug. She held tight for a few seconds and I returned the gesture.  I could feel at this moment that she felt alone. And as several other patients waited for me in the other rooms, the best medicine I could offer was a warm embrace. I wanted to tell her, “I understand. I hear you. It makes sense to me why you feel like that. I love you. I share with you the pain, the pain of our human story.”

I did not say any of these words.

I just hugged her.

Even when you feel you have nothing else to offer, my friend you can touch the heart of another human soul with a hug.

Your friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

For Further Reading:

Lesson From a Dying Patient
My Patient With An Artificial Heart

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8 Comments
  • Jamie Adams
    Posted at 09:53h, 04 November Reply

    wow, Very compelling.. I’m glad you could offer her some solace even if only for a few moments.

    • Wes Saade
      Posted at 06:12h, 08 November Reply

      Thank you Jamie!

  • Paul Coneff
    Posted at 14:50h, 04 November Reply

    Great story and great example of being present…not to fix but to share the moment of pain and grief in a way that is honoring to the lady. So often we offer words of comfort (at least we think they are words of comfort), yet we end up being more like Job’s friends/counselors who just add more pain to the situation.

    Fortunately, we can also pray to Jesus, the “Man of grief and sorrows” who had to say good-bye to His Father on the cross and live without His Father’s comfort, thanking Him and His Father for going through that experience so He can comfort this woman with His peace and grace.

    Trusting in the simple – yet supernatural power of HIS-story connecting to our story, Sincerely, Paul Coneff

    • Wes Saade
      Posted at 06:16h, 08 November Reply

      Dear Paul – thank you for your wonderful and uplifting comment. I wholeheartedly agree! So many times our only refuge in life can (and should be) Jesus!

    • Misty Gilbert
      Posted at 20:29h, 12 November Reply

      Paul, I loved your thought…thanks for sharing!

      Misty

  • Misty Gilbert
    Posted at 20:34h, 12 November Reply

    This was a difficult post to read. As one who is still working through childhood drama, I sure hope I am not 63 and still fighting these battles and learning to unpack my baggage!!! 😉

    But if I am, I hope that God gives me the strength to face each part of the journey that brings pain, stirs up the wounds, haunts me with memories and nightmares, challenges my determination to not quit, and gives me the ability to share my story with others. At the same time, your post reminds me of one I shared this week, just listen. We all need people to love us…whether that be in a hug or to listen.

  • Connie P.
    Posted at 03:11h, 15 November Reply

    This is why I love having you as my Doctor. You have compassion. Besides my medical needs this morning, all I really needed was someone who cared enough to ask what was really going on. You could see my distress as tears ran down my face. I wanted to ask you if you would pray with me before you left but I knew there were other patients who needed you just as much as I had. To be honest, the hug you gave me when I was leaving was SO needed. I hesitated to let go, bc I needed the hug, but I had to keep myself together bc I felt like I was going to bawl if I stayed in the office 1 more minute. So I got back in my mommy van and cried my eyes out. Please remind me of the book you told me about, Circle of….? Thank you for being such a blessing. With 5 small children, it’s so hard to keep it together. Thank you again.
    Connie P

    • Wes Saade
      Posted at 16:59h, 15 November Reply

      Thank you so much Connie for the kinds words! I appreciate your trust, and I pray for your complete healing.

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