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July 23, 2014 / 25 Tammuz, 5774
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The Importance Of A Caring Touch


         Imagine for a moment what it feels like to have raised your children, lost your spouse, and all your relatives (including your immediate family) live in a different state. Perhaps you are living alone in an apartment or in an assisted living or care facility. Perhaps you are chronically ill and still young, but are living alone with only a caregiver coming in twice a day to meet your physical needs. In this situation you can go for weeks, even months at a time without a positive, caring-touch from anyone. There is no one to hold your hand, touch your shoulder or in any way interact with you physically.


 


         We all need touch. Babies have shown tremendous problems from lack of it, even though their basic physical needs were met. The chronically ill and aged who are living alone cope with the adverse effects of lack of touch, as well.


 


         I recently met an amazing woman − a heroine, in my eyes. She is a reflexology therapist who volunteers her time at a senior center. She spends as much as two hours with each client. Besides taking a history and doing a diagnostic assessment, she concentrates on touch and caring. She told me that for some of her clients who live alone, her sessions are the only time any one touches them all month.


 


         Her warm personality immediately “surrounds” you when you meet her, even though she has to function out of a tiny room in a basement. As she chats with you, you are instantly put at ease. You immediately feel that you are with someone who cares about you. She takes her time when she talks to you. She listens, really listens to what you have to say.


 


         When she begins her session, she explains everything she is going to do and why. She wants your feedback as she proceeds. Nothing is unimportant, which gives you the feeling that you are very important. You are put in a zero gravity chair, the comfort of which is heavenly. She wraps you in a warm blanket, making you feel cocooned and turns on soothing music as she begins her work.


 


         As she works your feet, she is always conscious of your comfort. Not only is it a therapeutic session, but one in which you emerge feeling like a new person. You are relaxed − your stress level is lower and you feel that you have instantly become someone important. I can only imagine how this benefits a person who, only once in the course of the month, has this experience of being listened to and touched.


 


         After I left my session, I began to think of the elderly and chronically ill who have no one to hold their hand, or demonstrate through touch that they are cared about. I began to think how we, as neighbors and friends, are able to do something about this. Taking someone’s hand (when appropriate) while wishing them “Good Shabbos” or touching their shoulder when asking how they are, may indeed mean more to someone who is alone, than we realize. It also slows us down, so that the wishes and questions seem more sincere and shows that we are truly interested in the answer and in them. It may be the only sincere interest and touch anyone has shown them.


 


         And I began to think of the group of people that I write about − well spouses. They may be in desperate need of this kind of interaction. They too are alone, even though they are married. If the children and family live out of town, chances are that well spouses go without a caring touch, as much as anyone who is alone.


 


         Their spouses are often unable, or too involved in their own problems, to fill that need for them. The well spouses too, may go for weeks or even months without a positive or caring touch or without anyone questioning how they feel or asking what they need. I have seen well spouses melt into tears when finally, someone does hold their hand and asks sincerely how they are; because it has simply been so very long since anyone has demonstrated that kind of caring.


 


         It only takes seconds. But its positive effects can last for days. Next time you see someone who is alone, or virtually alone even though they are married, take the time to take their hand and wish them well. Put your hand on their shoulder and really ask how they are. Listen to their answer. It only takes a few moments, but it may truly take them through the next few days of feeling positive about themselves. Your few minutes may mean the difference between depression and relief from that depression. It may even prolong their life.


 


         Note: Reflexology is a system of massage used to relieve tension and treat pain or discomfort caused by illness, based on the theory that there are pressure points on the feet, hands and head that correspond to the nerves that lead to every part of the body.


 


         You can contact me at annnovick@hotmail.com 

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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