The intimacy of touch.
One of my earliest childhood memories is lying on the couch with my head in my mother’s lap while a violent thunderstorm rolled through. I was scared. Mom began stroking my hair and her gentle touch calmed me. It made me feel safe and loved. This weekend, cutting my mother’s hair, I remembered that time.
We caregivers often perform intimate tasks. Some tasks highlight the reversal in roles, like helping parents toilet or bathe. Some tasks are perfunctory, like getting shoes and socks on so they can get out the door. But others, like cutting someone’s hair, should not be hurried. It takes time to comb the hair and see the different lengths. It takes time to decide if you need to create something new. Do I want to leave some hair a little longer to keep mom’s head warm? Do I want to cut hair at the back of her neck short, so it doesn’t drive her crazy?
Tasks like helping a person toilet require understanding and respecting one another’s boundaries. As caregivers, we must recognize that certain tasks require your loved one to give up something they have always done for themselves. We need to recognize that for our loved one, there is grief in letting go of what they were to be able to do for themselves. As caregivers we must acknowledge any resentment at one more task added to the “to do” list. And to recognize our own grief as we come to terms with our parent’s frailty.
There are tons of research on the importance of touch and how it combats loneliness and depression. You can read about the science of touch and how it triggers the hypothalamus to produce oxytocin and its benefits in other blogs.
I want to focus on tasks that require touch. Tasks that should be done slowly, with intention, concentration and time, like cutting a person hair, giving them a hand massage, or painting their nails. This kind of touch allows for a level of intimacy that may surprise you. It has to do with communication.
Cutting mom’s hair, the intimacy of that touch, resulted in her telling stories about her childhood. Many of which I had never heard before. Some were funny, some poignant, but all gave me deeper insight into what shaped this woman I call mom. The slow combing of her hair, the careful shaping of the cut relaxed us both. It allowed me to slow down and focus on her. I hope it allowed her to feel calm, safe and loved – the same way she made me feel as a child.
Leave me a comment and tell me how the power of touch opened communication or brought your relationship to a new level.
For some additional reading:
This article has terrific insights into ways to touch. Like heart to heart hugs, with your face to the right of theirs, touching for two deep breaths. The importance of touch for seniors.
According to Dr. Sara Williams a clinical psychologist, it turns out that there are sensory neurons at the base of the hair follicles that once stimulated, send a message to the brain to release those feel-good chemicals.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.