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Losing touch: on the absence of physical contact during lockdown

For me, the hardest thing is not hugging my grandparents
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HANNAH FLEISCH/THE VARSITY
HANNAH FLEISCH/THE VARSITY

Human touch, a primal need that follows us all the way from infancy to adulthood, can soothe, signal safety, and foster collaborative relationships. It has even been suggested that touch strengthens our immune systems. Human touch is so important that a lack of it is called touch starvation.

Touch has been an important aspect of my life: I have always relied on it to convey my love, compassion, and trust to someone. To me, human touch is a form of communication that helps me connect with people. There is versatility in the human touch that is unlike any word, facial expression, or gesture, and it can magnify how I am feeling to someone. 

One of the major adjustments we had to make due to COVID-19 is how we interact with people, most of which became digital. We are no longer able to shake hands, hug our friends, or kiss our significant others due to the fear that we might be spreading COVID-19. 

Before the pandemic, I was constantly surrounded by people through school, work, and social gatherings. The sudden changes put me out, and for a few weeks, I felt alone. I had been so used to hugging, holding hands, and receiving comforting pats on the shoulder that it was a part of my communication. 

It made me realize how little a text message and FaceTime can provide. They were great tools for communication, but it really was touch that made things different. It made things more real. 

As time passed, however, I realized that what I missed most was being with my grandparents. Since lockdown, I have realized how much I took my grandparents for granted. They have been my support system throughout my life, and through these very stressful and difficult times, our communication has changed. No longer having the physical experience where we can hug each other and be together has been difficult. 

How can I connect with them the same way I did before COVID-19? Do they even understand how I feel without physical touch? It is one thing to text and FaceTime, but it’s another thing to be there physically in the moment. 

There is a glass window that keeps us apart, and until we can be completely sure that everyone is safe, we cannot ignore that glass window. 

Over time, it has been increasingly difficult for me to not feel lonely and guilty over the lockdown. I constantly look back on what I should have done when I was with my grandparents. I regret not spending more time with them and not hugging them more. I can’t imagine what it must be like for them. I can only imagine how tightly I’ll hug them when all this is over. 

My experience has made me wonder about the experiences of others. I wonder about the elderly who cannot go out to see their grandchildren, the international students away from their families on campus, the patients in hospitals isolated from their friends and family, and the health care workers who have to risk their health to help others. 

In today’s climate, we lack something very important: the human touch. When I think about life, I think about being able to hug and to hold someone’s hand in my own. I think about the shared trust and compassion that comes with touch. However, the most important thing I have learned is that, at the moment, isolating yourself is possibly one of the greatest symbols of love and compassion you can demonstrate to others.