This one may get long, due to some back stories that need telling.
My family is very loving. I grew up with everything I could ever need or want. Spoiled, even. But, as a rule, my parents were just not touchy-feely. My Mom was a hugger, but not my Dad. His parents weren’t touchy-feely either. And, I’m sure on back it goes. Anyway, I grew up moderately touchy.
Through various friends and boyfriends, I became a lot more comfortable with a more touchy outlook. But, in 2002, when I began working at a high end salon and spa in my home-town, I was reconnected with an old acquaintance and friend. First, the salon/spa atmosphere lends itself to touching. Literal, hands-on work. And, in the South, we hug. So, I was catapulted into touchy-feely all the time. And, most importantly, my old friend, who is now my closest friend in the world-we will call her Tracey-is a massage therapist. One of my area’s very best and most trusted. And, she is, of course, touchy-feely; it is her job. But, Tracey touches you with more than her hand on your shoulder to comfort you as you walk back to her treatment room. Tracey touches you with her soul and surrounds you with a warmth that I once thought only a Mother could give. She possessed this trait/gift with ease and zero thought, so I know she was born with it. And, it definitely rubbed off on me. Pun intended!
I touched everyone. I hugged. I adopted the hand on the shoulder when walking clients to their stylists or the restroom. And, slowly, without even realizing it, I got the warmth, too. Or, I should say, the ability to transfer my caring energy to a person with warmth and touch.
So, this brings me to the story and the framed photo. During a very dark time in my life, living away from home in Alabama, I was enrolled in a mental health day treatment program. The Hurricane (we’re not ready for that entry-none of us) had been gone, but the storms in my mind were ever present and I missed home. I sought professional help, and got it.
I bonded hugely with this group and the three weeks we spent talking when we didn’t want to, crying, laughing, screaming, talking too much, learning, feeling, growing, struggling, and fighting. Every morning was hard and we all left emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. Do not let anyone tell you therapy is fun, they’re doing it wrong! Therapy is diving into yourself, the deep end, you’ve forgotten how to swim, and there is a lifeguard…but they can only swim out to you. Once out, they can only TELL you how to swim back, not save you. It is not fun.
One lady and I had the closest connection. She sat by me on the first day. By the fifth day she and I were talking about a lot of personal life stories and woes and histories. This woman was a photographer, and old enough to be my mother. She actually had a daughter my age who ‘did not understand her’ and a husband who tried to understand which was a lot like my world. She listened to my Hurricane stories and my homesick, reclusive lifestyle. We bonded.
On, or about, the second week of group my friend was feeling a little tired. I got her some coffee, she felt better. An hour into group she gets my attention and says, I feel dizzy. And when I turned to talk with her, she was as white as a ghost. I explained quickly to the therapist and we got her to lie down while another group member went to get the on-staff nurse. My friend was becoming more scared by the minute, and I could tell. I did not want to overstep the therapist’s boundaries but I went and sat at my friends side and began lightly stroking her arm. I’d been out of the spa and salon business for a while, but my instinct was to soothe her the only way I knew how. At first, I could tell my friend was a little uncomfortable so I stopped and said, ‘was that helping to distract you?’ and she looked up at me with almost child-like eyes and nodded her head with swift approval. I put one hand on her shoulder, firmly, and went back to just a gentle stroke of her arm. The nurse asked me to continue as it seemed to help. He checked her vitals, all were fine. He got her some apple juice. The therapist had released the group for a break due to the situation, and eventually, my friend felt better.
The next day, I was glad to see my friend was feeling well enough to be there and she pulled me to the side and proceeded to tell me that she did not have the words yesterday to express her gratitude for my compassion during her sinking spell. We think her sugar must have been low. This woman, my friend, also expressed to me that she had never felt the warmth she felt from me ever in her life and that my level of compassion is remarkable and gave her a hope like she had not had in years. I had no idea the connection compassion had with hope. Not until that very moment. I was moved, to say the least. And group went on as usual.
The last day of day treatment came and we “graduated” and all said our goodbyes and exchanged encouragement and positive words for a better future for all of us. Nothing too out of the ordinary, until my friend said, ‘walk me to my car’. I obliged my friend because I was going to miss her and thought we would exchange phone numbers–even though the facility advised against it. We did not. She got a fairly large framed item out of her car with a card and said, just take this and we will always remember the compassion and hope we need.
The photograph was taken by my friend, in my home town that I longed so much for, over fifteen years ago. In her card to me, she said she hoped at least the big tree survived the Hurricane, and that she knew for sure that I was not only surviving it but my compassion showed I was thriving. The hope that picture gave me and still gives me, everyday, is a true testament to the bonds and compassion we share that give us hope.
I have not had any contact with my group therapy friend since that last day in 2008. One day I hope to be able to tell her; the tree survived the Hurricane just like I did.