2021-02-06 08:00:37 | ‘Hugging is like medicine, it gives us hope’: friends and lovers on the joy of touch | Family


Story by: Deborah Linton The Guardian

The home schooling family: Abhi, 36, and Chloe Shivraj, 34, and their daughter Ella, seven, Stockport

Abhi and Chloe Shivraj with their daughter Ella, Stockport
Photograph: Simon Bray/The Guardian

“I would describe myself as a promiscuous hugger – it’s how I feel connected to people – and I’m talking fairly strong, well-intentioned hugs,” says Abhi. A business development manager, he and Chloe are working at home, and home schooling Ella. “I try to get up from my laptop and stretch my legs every hour or so. I might find one of them to cuddle as part of that. Some people do coffee or cigarettes for a break, I crave human touch.”

Growing up in Dubai, in an Indian family, with cousins, uncles and aunts nearby, physical affection was part of Abhi’s daily life. He worries we won’t go back to that, outside immediate family. “In the wider world, I do wonder if the hugging, the handshakes, the high fives will come back. I imagine we’ll all be a bit more reserved with those we’re not close to.”

Chloe, a communications assistant, says she is less tactile, although she misses her father. “I was always a daddy’s girl and still, as an adult, I’ll lean into my dad for a hug – I’ve missed that. But I miss my friends’ kids most. I chat to my godson on his doorstep and I just want to scoop him up. Another friend has a baby who I’m watching grow up in a pushchair during walks in the park. To me, a hug from a child is the most affirming physical connection.”

Their daughter Ella has become more affectionate during lockdown, Chloe thinks as a result of being with her parents all day. It’s not something she takes for granted. “It reminds you that everything’s not lost, and you feel fortunate to be in someone’s arms. Ella’s kiss at the end of the day, or a kiss with my husband when we’ve both finished work and emerged from our separate rooms, provides a constant in an inconstant world.”

The newlyweds: Rachel and Kerry Howells-Brewer, both 42, London

Rachelle and Kerry Howells-Brewer and Rainbow the pup, London
Rachelle (left) and Kerry. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

“Hugs are called cwtches – which is Welsh for cuddle – in our house,” says Rachel, who is originally from Newport, south Wales. She and her wife, Kerry, married in 2019, a year Rachel describes as a high – full of friends, family and hugs. “We had a festival-themed wedding, a Glastonbury mini-moon and a honeymoon in the Caribbean and South America,” she says. “Then lockdown hit. In May, we lost our beloved rescue dog, Daisy, and in June, my mum was diagnosed with lung cancer. Not being able to cwtch friends and family, to hold Mum, or for Mum just to hold me and say, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ was so hard.

When restrictions eased last summer, the couple drove their caravan to Newport to see Rachel’s mother before she went into hospital. “I put on PPE, wrapped her in a duvet and hugged her so tightly. How could I not?”

Rachel has missed the embrace of friends, too. “When I’ve seen friends in the park, my whole body moves to hug them. I’ve held on to Kerry tighter – and our puppy, Rainbow.”

Kerry, a health and social care worker, originally from South Shields, hasn’t been back to north-east England since the pandemic began. “I’m from such a loving family, who I miss. So a hug from Rachel is everything. It means the world at the moment and, while I’m working at home, I can have one any time I want. It’s grounding; it’s letting my work day go.”

Rachel is looking forward to more human contact. “Next year, I hope we’ll be back at Glastonbury, in that mosh pit, hugging a stranger. That’s something I can’t wait to do.”

The friends: Michelle, 54, and Judith, 56

Judith (left) and Michelle
Judith (left) and Michelle. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

Michelle and Judith have been friends for 25 years; both have adult children who have left home. Michelle says: “We’re normally raving, holidaying or shopping together – we miss those experiences that feel like giving ourselves a nice, big hug.” Judith adds: “There are many people we can’t see, so a hug from Michelle when I walk through her front door returns some normality.”

The grandparents: Celia Burgess-Macey, 75, and Neil Macey, 82, London

Celia Burgess-Macey and husband Neil Macey, London
Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

Celia and Neil have been married for 35 years, and while they are not into big public displays of affection, they love to dance. “Dancing has always been our thing,” says Celia, a retired teacher. “We put on some Lovers rock and dance in our back room together. During lockdown those moments have been extra special, when there are no opportunities to dance among others.” Neil, a former TV and electronics engineer and DJ, agrees: “I’m not a huggy-huggy person but dancing, body movement, is one of the times I feel closest to Celia.”

They both have children and grandchildren from previous relationships, who do not live nearby: Neil has a granddaughter at university in Glasgow, and Celia has a daughter and two grandchildren, 10 and 12, who live in Chile. “We have a family of cuddly toy seals that live between London, with me, and Chile, with them – so we can hold them and feel a connection despite our distance,” says Celia. “Like most grandparents, though, it’s real hugs that we long for.”

After much deliberation, her daughter brought the children to London in December, before tier 4 restrictions were introduced. “We hadn’t seen each other for two years. They isolated in a room in our home for a week, but I can’t describe the torture of having them so close and not being able to hold them. We ended up paying for Covid-19 tests. The moment the email arrived with the word ‘negative’ we had the most enormous family hug. It was absolutely fantastic – all the hugs with them were. I was overwhelmed to have them in my arms after so long, and I miss them now they are gone.” (They tested negative before flying home and quarantined on arrival.)

“What I’ve really missed, too, is the hugs from my women friends, ladies I’ve known for decades. Women hug in a different way – it’s softer, solid. It’s very consoling.”

The expectants: Izzy, 30, and David Elton, 32, Stockport

Dave and Izzy Elton, Stockport
Photograph: Simon Bray/The Guardian

Izzy and David Elton, from Stockport, are expecting their first child. Izzy is nine months pregnant. She says: “The prospect of our families not holding the baby is hard to swallow, but we are accepting.” David adds: “I can’t fulfil all of our relatives’ hugs for them, but I’ll try my best.”

The tactile couple: Sam George, 37, and Roberto Agosti, 33, London

Sam George and husband Roberto Agosti, London
Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

“We’re quite a touchy-feely couple. We’ll go arm-in-arm down the street or hold hands,” says Roberto, who has been married to Sam for four years. He was born in Italy, Sam in India; they are longing to see their families who live abroad. Sam’s parents are over 70 and work as doctors on the frontline in Cochin, Kerala. “Sam often needs a hug when she’s stressed about work or if she’s worrying about her parents,” says Roberto, who is a technology director at an advertising agency. “My need for hugs comes a bit more out of the blue. – I can speak to colleagues or friends on Skype, but I notice I need more affection from Sam than I did before the pandemic.”

Sam started a new job in marketing with a travel firm last April, and has never met her colleagues in the flesh. On top of that, it’s a particularly uncertain time for the industry. “Hugs from Roberto give me reassurance. I miss my family: my parents, whom I haven’t seen for two years, my sister in Manchester and my brother who is closer, in London. When I want to hug them, I often defer those hugs to Roberto. He does need more space than me, though, which I try to be aware of.”

Do they think we will be more or less tactile when the pandemic recedes? They have different takes. Sam says, “We are all developing new routines. In other countries, like Japan, there is a greater awareness of personal space and we might come out of this to find we have adapted, too. But the hugs with the people we love most will mean more.”

Having grown up in Italy, Roberto says he is used to tactile gatherings, lots of hugs and kisses, and this will return. “With the people we’re closest to, I think the urge to embrace will come back intensely, to make up for lost time.”

The bubble families: Bonnie Miller, 34, her son Theo, seven, and Melissa Maxwell, 37, and her sons Leo, six, and Gabe, five, Cheadle

Melissa Maxwell with her sons Leo and Gabriel with Bonnie Miller and her son Theo Benson, Manchester
Melissa Maxwell (back, left) with her sons Leo (front right) and Gabriel (front left) with Bonnie Miller her son Theo Benson, Cheadle. Photograph: Simon Bray/The Guardian

Bonnie and Melissa, best friends and single mothers, formed a childcare bubble last year to help each other balance the demands of work and three children. Melissa, an optometrist, separated from her husband and moved house in the summer, between lockdowns. “So there have been a million moments when I needed Bonnie’s shoulder to cry on. I am very needy for hugs!” Their sons, meanwhile, have become “bubble brothers”. “When their contact with friends has been so restricted, to see them play-fight or mess around, uninhibited, has made us smile.”

Bonnie, a client and marketing manager at a law firm, lives less than a mile away. Every Friday, Melissa looks after the boys while she works. “Then we’ll sit down and have dinner together. Other times, we curl up with the kids on the sofa and watch a movie. Theo taught Leo how to ride a bike in the summer and I’ve helped Melissa do her hair. All these little things that involve touch have kept us going. I don’t crave hugs myself, but I can see when Melissa needs one.”

The besties: Nynke Brett, 49, and Andreea Paduraru, 40, London

Nynke (left) and Andreea, London
Nynke (left) and Andreea. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

Nynke Brett, 49, a food charity operations manager, and Andreea Paduraru, 40, an actor, are both from north London and have been…


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Source References: The Guardian
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