It’s a simple thing, a hug. Sometimes, I take them for granted. But a hug is made from powerful stuff.

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,
Sean

43 comments

  1. Gayle - June 26, 2019 6:56 am

    What a wonderful tribute not only to Miss Jean Lee but also to the power of human connection and touch. Man, I could use a hug like that right now. You are right; cancer sucks.

    Reply
  2. Leslie in NC - June 26, 2019 7:02 am

    Nothing can beat a good hug! I get so few these days because I have no family or friends who live near me. So when I do get one, I want to cry, simply because the person giving me that hug has no idea how loved and special it makes me feel. I pray your friend Miss Jean Lee has an easy transition to the other side and that she gets lots of loving hugs to take with her.

    Reply
  3. Joy T Lane - June 26, 2019 7:36 am

    Bless your heart Sean. And bless Miss Jean Lee, who obviously blessed many others. May she slip the bonds of earth, dance the skys on laughter, and touch the face of God.

    Reply
  4. Evelyn - June 26, 2019 8:03 am

    Sean, my dear friend Mary Lou introduced me to your writing a while back and I just wanted to say thank you for the heart touching posts you bring to us each day. I’m a therapist and former Hospice social worker and I can tell you that hugs benefit everyone and especially people who can go all week and never be touched. Failure to thrive because of the lack of touching affects everyone, not just infants. You are a dear man. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and decency and Miss Jean Lee and Millie sound like treasures.

    Reply
  5. Christopher Spencer - June 26, 2019 8:52 am

    Sean I’ve read a lot of your writings over the last two years since I accidentally found you when doing an online search for new Southern writers.
    But I believe this one is quite possibly your best yet. And it is oh so true about hugs.

    Rest in the arms of God Miss Jean Lee. May He comfort and strengthen you and all your family and friends. May He bless you all with His peace of mind, heart and soul.
    And you owe me a hug when I join you in Heaven, whenever that may be. From Sean’s description I know it has to be heavenly.
    In the love of Christ,
    Chris

    PS Sean I got an email from Amazon the other day about my preorder of your new book. They let me know it will soon ship and I really look forward to reading it. Take care and may God always bless you.
    Chris

    Reply
  6. Tina Harman - June 26, 2019 9:09 am

    This is a beautiful tribute to Miss Jean Lee and the power of touch. Hugs make us all feel like we matter to someone. Every word in this piece is straight from your heart. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  7. Steve Bailey - June 26, 2019 9:39 am

    Beautiful.

    Reply
  8. Lisa - June 26, 2019 9:49 am

    Thank you for your words, Sean. I love reading them every morning before I start my day.

    Reply
  9. Nancy - June 26, 2019 9:55 am

    So, so beautiful and full of wisdom and truth. This is truly the best piece you have ever written. Thank you for making my heart smile and bringing tears of happiness to my eyes.
    I also got a notice from Amazon regarding your new hard cover book. I can’t wait! Much love!

    Reply
  10. Janie F. - June 26, 2019 9:56 am

    Sean Dietrich, only you could write so beautifully about something as simple and as wonderful as a hug. I hope Miss Jean Lee gets to read this because she will surely love it and feel like she just got the sweetest hug of all time.

    Reply
  11. Grace - June 26, 2019 10:35 am

    Lovely. I read where 20 sec. hugs are therapeutic. Mine typically last 12 so I hope they help. Great piece. 🤗

    Reply
  12. Joe Patterson - June 26, 2019 11:03 am

    Thanks again

    Reply
  13. Faye - June 26, 2019 11:08 am

    Definitely one of your best!!

    Reply
  14. Naomi - June 26, 2019 11:15 am

    I am a hugger. I will hug a total stranger in the supermarket who has done something for me or said something nice to me or shared something about their life. However, my husband had a very good family, but he grew up on a farm during the depression. Boys were supposed to be tough. I’m pretty sure his mother hugged him but men didn’t hug other men. We are in a second marriage; he has three sons who are now in their 60s and I have a son and a daughter who are both in their 50s. In the 40 years that we have been married, I have never see him hug his sons. His youngest son will, on occasion hug his father. My son and my grandsons will hug him but he still “tenses” up, even in church, if he is hugged by another grown man. I personally don’t see it as “unmanly” for grown men to hug each other but evidently other men don’t share my opinion. I don’t know if you have ever watched the TV program “Everybody Loves Raymond” or not, but Raymond’s father Frank never hugged his sons even when they were little boys. As adult men, he finds it impossible to hug them and they can’t hug him back. I think there was a time where men thought that it would be “sissy” if men hugged their sons.

    Reply
  15. Connie Havard Ryland - June 26, 2019 11:21 am

    Beautiful. I love hugs too. The power of touch is under-rated, and so many people these days are “don’t touch me” kinds of people. They are missing something precious. I hate cancer too. Several people in my world are battling it right now and my heart aches for them and their families and for your friend Miss Jean Lee. Prayers for them all. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  16. Dee Thompson - June 26, 2019 11:55 am

    Beautiful post. When I adopted my son he was 10 years old. I told him I needed at least 2 hugs a day. He was a willing and happy hugger and still hugs his mama even though he is 22 now. I think hugging your mama heals you. My mama is 85 and I hug her every day.

    Reply
  17. Peggy Savage - June 26, 2019 12:06 pm

    Thank you , Sean. This is a beautiful reminder of the power of touch. Thank you for hugging me with your words. Hugs to you.

    Reply
  18. Jo Ann - June 26, 2019 12:23 pm

    The older I get, the “huggier” I get. Giving & receiving. But, some people are “touch-averse”, & hugs make them cringe. At a former workplace, one co-worker would give everyone a hug before they went out to work. Someone complained anonymously to management, & she was told to stop. Such a shame. But, she would still hug those who asked her to. Here’s a hug to Sean & all his readers from me.

    Reply
  19. Toni Marshall - June 26, 2019 12:26 pm

    You are such a good man! Jamie is a lucky woman. I wish you both a hug each day that takes your breath away…

    Reply
  20. Shelton A. - June 26, 2019 12:45 pm

    Great hugs can cure almost anything…except cancer. Great column and God bless and be with Miss Jean Lee.

    Reply
  21. Robbie Rainer - June 26, 2019 12:54 pm

    I am a hugger. I come from a long line of huggers. There is nothing better for the soul than a good hug. I thought everyone was a hugger, at least until I became an adult. Have you ever hugged someone who was not a hugger? To me there is nothing colder…..and the poor things don’t know what they’re missing. As for me, I’ll take my chances and keep on hugging! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  22. Stephanie Cox - June 26, 2019 1:14 pm

    Dear Sean, I grew up in a family of huggers. I say often hugs are holy and healing. I have a daughter 36 battling breast cancer and two younger brothers battling cancer. They are 15 and 13 years younger than me. I pray for a cure of this horrible disease. You touched my heart today. Thank you for sharing your heart. Today was a day your writing brought tears. You are a blessing.

    Reply
  23. BJean - June 26, 2019 1:37 pm

    Love, love, love! So true.:)

    Reply
  24. Susan Kennedy - June 26, 2019 1:57 pm

    Yes! A good hug is the best. I had a Christian therapist who always gave me a big huge hug after every session. It was as if Jesus Himself had put His arms around me. It was the most healing thing I’ve EVER experienced. God used her so much in my life to remind me of His love for me….through a simple genuine hug. Thank you Sean for ‘getting it’!😘💕

    Reply
  25. Debbie Britt - June 26, 2019 2:03 pm

    Precious! I’m a hugger! I think they are healing!❤️

    Reply
  26. Linda Moon - June 26, 2019 3:01 pm

    On behalf of all us Cancer Warriors, including Miss Jean Lee, thank you for these “HUGS” sent today. Two special people in my life dreamed about my hugs a few nights ago, and each of them told me about their dream. I hope I whispered to them and lifted their veil, because they deserve it. And so do you, Sean. HUGS!!!!

    Reply
  27. Carolyn - June 26, 2019 3:03 pm

    Absolutely love this one! Tears flowing from Heartfelt Unabashed Gratitude Sean… 💕

    Reply
  28. Jack Darnell - June 26, 2019 3:08 pm

    Sweet. Huggers have increased over the years, ’tis good!
    From NC,
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  29. Pat - June 26, 2019 3:11 pm

    I remember from my early childhood watching my maternal grandmother hug everyone who came to her house…they got a hug when they came and another when they left. I can still picture in my mind her hugging someone at the door and I was thinking how happy I would be when I was “old enough” to hug everyone. Well that time has come, actually it came many many years ago, and I love it!
    My prayers for Miss Jean Lee and I feel like I know Miss Millie via your writing. I know I would have hugged her!

    Reply
  30. peggybilbro - June 26, 2019 3:38 pm

    These may be the most beautiful words you have ever written, Sean. Thank you

    “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.”

    Reply
    • Linda Moon - June 26, 2019 11:39 pm

      peggybilbro: Those words of Sean’s are not only beautiful, they are profound. Thank you for posting your reply, which made me think again about the beauty of what Sean had written.

      Reply
  31. Ken Dunn - June 26, 2019 4:13 pm

    THANKS for the article on hugs. My wife is a world champion at hugging. She even throws in a mini-massage so you’re ready to fall asleep when she finishes. The last time I saw my dad at his home before he died with cancer- which we didn’t know he had at the time- I hugged him and told him I loved him. Something just told me to do that. That night he told my mom that I had never done that before and how special it was for him. Here in our business we often sense someone needs a hug and offer them one. We are surprised how many accept our offer and open up to us how much they needed that because of what was happening in their lives. A hug is a powerful healer !

    Reply
    • Livy Abele - June 27, 2019 1:32 am

      Amen! Wonderful reminder…

      Reply
  32. Ala Red Clay Girl - June 26, 2019 4:53 pm

    I’m not much of a hugger but this writing makes me realize how important hugs are to people. I shall start today trying to be a better hugger. Thank you, Sean, for this important lesson.

    Reply
  33. Rose Ann REED - June 26, 2019 9:00 pm

    Oh my. That really got me. I read your essay everyday and it always leaves me with a smile. Today it really got to me. Keep writing. Lov it all.

    Reply
  34. Livy Abele - June 27, 2019 1:30 am

    The most beautiful words…..

    “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?””
    -Sean Dietrich

    Reply
  35. Laura - June 27, 2019 10:25 am

    I am a hugger! My grandmother passed over 30 years ago but I can still feel her hugs…and I miss them. Her hugs spoke volumes… you knew how much she loved you from that hug. I’ve been a hairstylist for years and I hug most of my clients when they leave my chair… I cherish them. I am a realtor now too and I hug my clients…they are special and I am blessed to have their trust. I have met a few people who were uncomfortable with hugs and you have to respect that even though you feel that they are missing something very special. Goodbyes don’t feel right to me without a hug. It’s like a parting gift from one soul to another.

    Look up “teacher greeting students with hug option” on the internet. It never fails to warm my heart and bring a tear to my eyes. A sign by the classroom door let’s the child pick the way they would like their morning greeting…high five, hand shake, hug etc. an overwhelming majority of those kids opt for a hug … both girls and boys!! What a beautiful and healthy way to start your day!! Here’s a hug to you all🥰

    Reply
  36. Janet Mary Lee - June 27, 2019 5:25 pm

    This truly is your best ever. I can not even speak.

    Reply
  37. terry - June 28, 2019 3:35 am

    So many times I see someone post in the comments section “your best ever!” Man, how do you deal with that pressure, to outdo “your best ever”?! It must cause you terrific stress!!!
    Nah, nah. Just kidding. Everything you write comes simply from the heart. So each one of your stories will always be “the best ever!”
    Congratulations for being in touch with your heart! Not everyone knows how to do it.
    But you help show them the way…

    Reply
  38. Naomi Smith - June 28, 2019 11:54 am

    I warm sincere hug is the best medicine! Our large family is a family of huggers. We just had a 3 day family reunion on Father’s Day weekend. I was the youngest of a blended family of 15. Make no mistake, we were a “family”. All of my sisters and brothers, except one brother, have now gone on to be with Jesus. I can’t hug many siblings anymore, but the hugs of my niece’s and nephew’s help me to remember hugs of my parents and siblings, and the sweet words, “I love you, Aunt Sissy! The memories just come flooding back, while held in the arms of precious family. Always hug, that connection is never broken.

    Reply
  39. Phillip - June 28, 2019 3:24 pm

    Thanks, Sean for your inspiring stories! This one hits close to my heart. I have a dear friend who at age 85 is in the hospital contemplating triple bypass surgery. Praying she will make the right decision. She gives the “bestest” hugs!

    Reply
  40. Bill B - June 28, 2019 9:15 pm

    Jean Lee and her family are long time friends. You have captured her spirit well. I know that her family and friends will cherish these kind thoughts that you have shared with the world.

    Reply
  41. Mary Ellen Hall - July 13, 2019 7:26 am

    ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL SEAN!!! I like you, HATE CANCER!!! I lost BOTH my parents to this INSIDIOUS DISEASE!!!

    HUGS are SO VERY IMPORTANT, no matter what is going on!!! ❤❤💙💙

    THANKS FOR YOUR ARTICLE SEAN,
    Mary Ellen

    Reply

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