“I’m not kidding, Jonna, there was a different woman in his bed each morning! My ninety year old father, he’s in a wheel chair and the nurses were horrified. I kept getting complaints from the staff.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“And did you?”
“No, I pointed out, to that old besom that those women were in his bed, he was not in theirs, so I asked her… I really did… if she had contacted those women’s families and asked them to curb their mothers’ behavior.”
I had to laugh, but later on (that story sort of stuck) I asked myself, when did it become so scandalous to sleep with someone, to just cuddle up and hold each other’s bodies, like in a bed?
During cave man times we must have huddled together for the warmth. It meant our survival. During the Middle Ages entire households, the master, his wife, their children and even the servants slept together under mounds of covers to conserve heat. Certainly indigenous families cuddled under buffalo skins in teepees. So what’s wrong with seniors cuddling up for warmth and caring and touch?
Because now we are civilized?
My mother told stories about cold nights when she and her well spooned sisters giggled, half thankful when one of them passed gas. Such was the need for warmth in Maine. Then…the miracle… of central heat and the simplest act with the greatest importance fell out of fashion.
To sleep with someone now has to mean you’re having sex with them. Is that dirty mind of ours rooted in not being held and allowed to suckle as a child? Even nursing your newborn fell out of fashion in the forties.
No mother’s milk for you, you twisted Baby Boomers! We never even had a chance!
But we are doing our best with civilization, improving it as we learn, and we have re-recognized the need for human touch. We hug our children more (as they cleave to their iPhone), free hug gatherings happen in public spaces and Rent-a-Cuddle services abound. Maybe half the people who attend church just go to connect physically in a non-judgmental way.
We need to be loved on. That need is basic. I suggest it’s primal and now we have come to understand that it is, indeed, therapeutic. We know hugs create a feeling of well-being by releasing oxytocin and that they reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Guess what, folks, that need for a squeeze doesn’t end when the first issue of AARP appears on our doorstep.
I don’t have to tell a single one of you that Benjamin Franklin is said to have been sexually active well into his eighties’ and, founding father or not, who cares if he actually practiced the Art of Loving or if he only snuck a cuddle and a snooze.
Yet a teacher cannot hug a child, not even in the presence of others. That’s how suspicious we are about touch.
I had a man-friend who claimed to be seventy-eight but I swear that he looked every “Hard Day’s Night” of eighty-seven. As we walked to the car we paused to kiss… a tender moment… till a young kid walked by and made barfing sounds.
“C’mon, John,” I said, “we mustn’t frighten the young people.” We smiled in mutual fondness and held each other just a little more closely. Because both of us knew that hugs at our age… now… mean more than they ever did in our youth.