Dear Miss Jean Lee,
I don’t know if you remember me or not, but I remember getting our photo taken together at the Methodist church in Enterprise. You put your arms around me. You squeezed.
I know a good hugger when I meet one. You gave me the same kind of hug my granny used to give.
It was the same way my mother used to hug me, too, just after I’d skinned my knee. She would squeeze me and say, “Sssshhh, it’s gonna be okay.”
Mothers always say that.
I am a connoisseur of good hugs. I collect as many as I can. I have collected hugs that came from as far away as Michigan—which is as far north as I have ever traveled.
But none can compete with your hugs. Yours are top-shelf.
There are people in life who are special. When they walk away, they leave you in better shape than they found you. These are the sort who hug well.
I used to work with a woman like this. Her name was Millie, we worked in a commercial kitchen together. She was an elderly black woman with a happy face and large eyes.
She was your all-American cook. She could prepare food that would cause people to stand up, throw their napkins on the floor, and shout.
She was a hugger, too. Before each shift, the waiters and waitresses would all get hugs from her. Myself included.
One time, I remember a twenty-one-year-old girl was upset because her boyfriend left her. Millie held that girl for nearly thirty minutes saying, “Ssssssshhhhh.”
Her culinary creations were the products of a lifetime spent before stoves. Her gumbo, for instance, could heal a broken heart. She made fried chicken so good that even barnyard chickens idolized her.
She passed from pancreatic cancer. The kitchen staff all attended the funeral before work one Friday afternoon. Her funeral was an elaborate ceremony. I’ll never forget it. People placed notecards in her casket, some gave speeches.
I’m sorry. I don’t know what made me think of Millie, except that she had the same form of cancer you have. And it makes me angry. I’m sorry to say it outright like that, especially since you’re going through so much.
But it’s true. Cancer makes me angry. I’ve lost too many people to it. Far too many. And there will be more.
I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know how you stay happy. That’s how my friend Millie was. She was cheerful, loud, and funny until the end. You never knew she was having a bad day. Not even when the chemotherapy reduced her into a skeleton.
Someone wrote me the other day and told me that hospice has been called in to your house. They told me that you’ve fought a hard fight.
We don’t know each other very well, and I don’t know if you even remember meeting me. Furthermore, I don’t know what you are going through.
I don’t know what sorts of things you are thinking while a hospice nurse sits beside your bed. I don’t know whether it’s easy or hard to sleep. I don’t even know how you feel about this letter. I hope you read it, though.
Because I wanted to write to say thank you. Thank you for the hugs you gave me.
It’s a simple thing, a hug. Sometimes, I take them for granted. But a hug is made from powerful stuff.
When you put your arms around someone and hold them for a few seconds, your two hearts are inches apart, separated only by cloth, bone, and muscle.
And in that same way, I believe that a hug is like life.
A body lives an entire existence beside the heartbeat of the universe, without realizing it. All that ever was, all that ever will be, all that is, all the beauty of life, it’s only a few inches from us. All the time. But we are separated by a thin veil.
A good hug pulls back the veil and whispers things to the human spirit. It can speak more than frail words could ever say. A simple hug can say something like: “You’re special to me, do you know that?”
Or: “Life has been worth living simply because you were in it.”
Or: “I love you.”
I wish you peace, Miss Jean Lee. I wish for Heaven itself to hold you, squeeze you, look you straight in the eyes, and with all the weight and beauty of Eternity, to tell you, “Sssshhhh, it’s gonna be okay.”
You deserve a hug like that.
Your forever friend,