From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

A Hug and a Kiss

Kindness is more than deeds. It is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch. It is anything that lifts another person.

C. Neil Strait

Mary, a recent widow and devoted “fifty-something” grandmother, worked as a nursing-attendant. Her triumph over a heart attack and by-pass surgery was remarkable, undoubtedly because of the deep love she held for her grandchildren.

But this time, Mary’s hospital stay was different. Afflicted with a noncontagious form of pneumonia, she was stunned to learn of her diagnosis—full-blown AIDS.

As part of a hospital volunteer visitation team, I call on each assigned AIDS patient at least once a day. In my role as patient-advocate, I let each person know that someone else cares about them—aside from their family and the medical staff. Once we become better acquainted, I greet most patients with a gentle hug and a kiss on the cheek. I can usually sense whether or not a patient is comfortable with this gesture.

After my third visit with Mary, I asked politely, “Would you like a hug and a kiss on the cheek?”

Mary smiled, holding out two waiting arms, and whispered a barely audible, “Yes, I’d love one.”

As I drew back, I noticed a tear working its way down one cheek. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“That’s the first time anyone has touched me, since I was diagnosed with AIDS. The medical staff touch me, but . . .” Mary turned onto her side, placing both hands over her face. “My sons won’t even allow me to see my grandchildren,” she said between sobs. “When my family visits, they sit clear across the room, as far away from me as possible.”

I simply sat by her bedside and listened in silence— handing her tissues and trying to understand.

A few days later, when I stopped to see Mary again, one of her sons and his wife were visiting. “Good evening, Mary. I see that you have guests, so I’ll stop back later,” I said, giving her a gentle hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Mary grabbed my right wrist as I turned to leave. “Wait a minute, Mack. I want you to meet my son, John, and daughter-in-law, Sarah.” During the introductions, her anxious family sat clear across the room from Mary’s bed.

Later, when I looked in on her, her visitors were still maintaining their safe distance. I respected Mary’s time with her family and didn’t intrude.

The following evening, John and Sarah were back again, and the scenario repeated itself like a familiar rerun on television. I went in, gave Mary a gentle hug and a kiss, promising to come back later.

When I returned, something had miraculously changed. John and Sarah were seated in chairs—one on each side of Mary’s bed—and they were holding hands.

Obviously choked with emotion, John said, “I guess if some stranger can hug and kiss my mother, we have nothing to be afraid of.”

Fortunately, Mary became well enough to return home and continue her loving relationship with her family, including her cherished grandchildren—in spite of her illness.

Mack Emmert
As told to Tom Lagana

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For more information on HIV/AIDS, contact Project Inform, 205 13th Street, #2001, San Francisco, CA 94103; 415-558-8669; fax: 415-558-0684; Web site: www.projinf.org.]

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