The Hugger

I was in Texas a few years ago, giving a speech in the elementary school auditorium. She was sitting in the front row. She laughed at all my jokes. She laughed first. She laughed loudest.

The girl wore a scarf over her bald head, and she was dressed in pajamas. Her frail little body was puffy from cancer treatment medication.

She had gotten out of the hospital just to come see me. She had read my books. She read them in the hospital multiple times. When we met backstage we got our pictures together. I signed her books.

She asked about my dogs. I asked about her life. We hung out.

Before I left, the kid gave me a hug. The girl squeezed so hard I felt my ribs creak. She just kept hugging me while her mother stood back and watched.

Mid-hug, the little girl said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know when I’m ever gonna be able to do this again, so I wanna make it a good one.”

So we just hugged for, I don’t know, five or six minutes. I remember at one point my back started to hurt. Truthfully, it was a little strange to hug a kid for that long. But I never forgot it.

My wife and I left the auditorium and walked out to the car. I removed my sportcoat and hung it on the backseat. The girl’s mother approached me. The woman told me her daughter was dying. She told me her family was already doing bucket-list stuff, preparing for the end. They were taking her to Disney World, the Grand Canyon. That kind of thing.

The mother started weeping right there, and I didn’t know what to do so I hugged her, too. We stood in a parking lot for a long time.

And I was thinking to myself, how did this happen to me? How in the name of heaven did I find myself here, hugging strangers in Texas? The experience was surreal, and it affected me deeply.

We parted ways. I had a six-hour drive to my next speaking gig. I pulled over at a West Texas gas station in the middle of the night and I had an emotional breakdown while pumping gas.

I’ve written a lot about terminal kids in my fledgling career as a writer. But when you hold a dying child, when your shirt is wet with their mother’s snot and tears, it does something to you.

I loosely stayed in touch with the girl via email. Over time, she kept getting worse. The funny thing is, in the girl’s messages she always encouraged me. She never once asked for pity. She never once complained.

I wrote a few columns about her and kept her name anonymous. Her mom would send me emails with photographs, and in each photograph, the little girl looked a little more like a skeleton in each photo.

My wife and I prayed for her every night at supper. I’m not a religious guy, but when you write human interest stories full-time, you end up with a pretty long prayer list. My wife and I usually say marathon prayers before supper, mentioning everyone we can, trying not to leave anyone out. This little girl was always at the top of my list.

“God, please heal her…” we would say. And sometimes I wouldn’t feel like eating after our prayer.

She quit writing to me. I sent several emails, but never got answers back. Years went by. I thought about her often. It didn’t take a genius to reason that life had stepped in and delivered a cruel blow. Because that’s how life works.

Then, one day, not long ago, I was sitting in my office, writing, when there was a knock at the door. I thought it was the mailman or maybe an Amazon delivery. On my doorstep was a beautiful teenage girl in jeans and a T-shirt. Her hair was golden. She was tall and healthy.

“Can I help you?” I said.

She smiled. “You mean you don’t recognize me?”

You could have knocked me over with a flick. I’m not sure whether I was crying or smiling. Maybe both.

We hugged, long and hard.

“I’m sorry,” I said, squeezing extra hard, “but I don’t know when I’m gonna be able to do this again, so I wanna make it a good one.”

78 comments

  1. Sandi. - May 13, 2022 8:19 am

    Who doesn’t love and appreciate a happy ending like this? Sincere thanks for sharing, Sean. (((Hugs)))

    Reply
  2. Lander - May 13, 2022 8:51 am

    Hugs all around.

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  3. Deborah Blount - May 13, 2022 9:02 am

    Prayers do work. Sometimes we don’t want to agree with God’s choices, but they do work.

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  4. pdjpop - May 13, 2022 9:42 am

    Each blog brings hope, compassion, joy …… whatever it is… keep doing it.

    Reply
  5. Sandi - May 13, 2022 9:45 am

    Once again you brought me to tears first thing in the morning! Happy tears are a great way to start the day!

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  6. Ann Marie Bouchet - May 13, 2022 9:55 am

    OH, WOW. Answered prayers. I was so dreading the end of this column. But, it ended beautifully within incredible hug. Sean, I love your columns and I love you. For your kindness, your sensitivity, your love of people, your words. You are a rare and wonderful man.

    Reply
  7. Joy Jacobs - May 13, 2022 10:58 am

    ❤️

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  8. Phil Mitchell - May 13, 2022 10:58 am

    As Paul Harvey would ask, what’s the rest of this beautiful story! Would love to know.

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  9. suzi - May 13, 2022 11:00 am

    Keep those columns and hugs coming

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  10. Bobby Crew - May 13, 2022 11:04 am

    Well, you got me all watered up. So happy she got better !

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  11. Anne Arthur - May 13, 2022 11:11 am

    God listened to the many prayers that went up to him for this little girl.
    What a beautiful surprise she gave you!
    This is a story of great hope and selfless love. Huggggggs, Sean.

    Reply
  12. Trudy - May 13, 2022 11:32 am

    Your prayers were answered. Thanks to you and Jamie for praying for this girl.

    Reply
  13. eliza - May 13, 2022 11:32 am

    Given your history of writing some tear jerkers, I was crying half way through and then BAM! Happy Happy ending! Thank you!

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    • Te - May 13, 2022 1:41 pm

      Me, too! Geez, what a way to start the day!

      Reply
  14. David Grant - May 13, 2022 11:33 am

    Sean: atta boy !! sending a “”man”” hug your way. write on brother.

    Reply
  15. Nancy - May 13, 2022 11:46 am

    Felt my heart gasp with this one. I’d have to say those prayers worked!

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  16. Tammy S. - May 13, 2022 11:51 am

    Powerful one, Sean!!
    “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.”
    ‭‭James‬ ‭5:16‬ ‭HCSB‬‬
    https://bible.com/bible/72/jas.5.16.HCSB

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  17. Naomi Smith - May 13, 2022 11:55 am

    Hugs! The cure for what ails you.

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  18. Dolores - May 13, 2022 12:01 pm

    Thank you Sean, I really enjoyed reading Hugs today. Well done and so special. Of course loved the ending. Will look forward to next time… 😍

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  19. Faye Hutt - May 13, 2022 12:07 pm

    Your stories usually leave us with tears. This morning my heart smiles!

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  20. Dale Parsons - May 13, 2022 12:07 pm

    Thank you for touching hearts.

    Reply
  21. Judy - May 13, 2022 12:12 pm

    Thanks be to God. Prayer changes things

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  22. Farris Jones - May 13, 2022 12:24 pm

    Friday blessngs to all , God is good !

    Reply
  23. Paul McCutchen - May 13, 2022 12:27 pm

    squeezes’ and tears are always good for the soul.

    Reply
  24. Debbie - May 13, 2022 12:42 pm

    What a wonderful surprise. You know sometimes someone giving another human being a long silent hug is the kindness thing a person can do. I know when I went through something terrible receiving that silent 5 minutes of hug fed my soul. Keep doing what you do.

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  25. Norman - May 13, 2022 12:44 pm

    Sean
    I don’t think that you should say that you are not a religious man any more.
    I know that you were not the only one praying for her but you were helping.
    You have to believe that there is a GOD to see something like this to happen.
    So I really think that you do believe that GOD exists.
    Thank you for all your stories that you write.
    Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  26. Wendy - May 13, 2022 12:59 pm

    Praise God!! Thank you for sharing this story, Sean

    Reply
  27. Jan - May 13, 2022 1:10 pm

    Perfect way to end a difficult week! Thank you for the light at the end of the tunnel and Amen!

    Reply
  28. Linda Lewis - May 13, 2022 1:29 pm

    Wow! What a beautiful story. You are touching so many people and so many hearts. May God bless you.

    Reply
  29. DAVIS DAVIS - May 13, 2022 1:39 pm

    BEAUTIFUL, HEART TOUCHING STORY GOD IS GOOD !

    Reply
  30. Ruth Mitchell - May 13, 2022 1:40 pm

    Oh my! What a beautiful story! What a miracle! Thank you for the “word hugs” today.

    Reply
  31. suzlcahill - May 13, 2022 1:41 pm

    I love this story. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
  32. Ann Bodiford - May 13, 2022 1:42 pm

    I absolutely loved this story! It was so heart warming.

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  33. Chris Swain - May 13, 2022 1:43 pm

    God has sent you on a mission. Ain’t you special ?Why of course you are!

    Reply
  34. Te - May 13, 2022 1:43 pm

    A good end to the week! We all need all the hope we can handle. This was a good one!

    Reply
  35. Dwain G King - May 13, 2022 1:45 pm

    you say you are not religious, but you have to know that God answers prayer! Not always the answer we want, but he answers!

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  36. Donna W - May 13, 2022 1:47 pm

    Everyone needs hugs at different points of their life. Some hugs are fun, and some hugs are special, touching, and unforgettable.

    Reply
  37. Don Gardner - May 13, 2022 1:53 pm

    You always start my day off on a positive note.

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  38. Helen De Prima - May 13, 2022 1:54 pm

    Beautiful!

    Reply
  39. Janet George - May 13, 2022 2:03 pm

    I just got chills!!

    Reply
  40. Rebecca Syms - May 13, 2022 2:19 pm

    PRAYERS work MIRACLES.

    Reply
  41. Susan W Fitch - May 13, 2022 2:21 pm

    Having faith is not the same as being religious, you have faith to pray for someone and that God will hear your prayers! God loves to interact with His people. This story has a beautiful ending!!!

    Reply
  42. alisonbaird765 - May 13, 2022 2:28 pm

    For a guy who says he is not religious, you have a way of making me feel closer to God when I read your words. I agree that you are not religious…religion never makes anyone feel closer to God. You are sincere and loving which is what God asks us to be!

    Reply
  43. Maggie - May 13, 2022 2:50 pm

    Oh, Sean, keep sending out those words and stories of hope! Thank you, thank you, thank you…

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  44. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - May 13, 2022 2:56 pm

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  45. Mary - May 13, 2022 3:00 pm

    What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

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  46. Penn Wells - May 13, 2022 3:11 pm

    Wow. Just… wow. The quote from Emerson comes to mind… as it often does when my wife and I think of this strange and wonderful creature who goes by Sean of the South. 😘

    Reply
  47. Julia - May 13, 2022 3:17 pm

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing! Prayers sustain us!

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  48. Susie Flick - May 13, 2022 3:18 pm

    Prayers are the best medicine and hugs are the best cure.

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  49. Patricia Schmaltz - May 13, 2022 3:27 pm

    Crying again. I believe in the power of prayer… and thank you for helping all the people you do. Love you. BIG HUGS!

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  50. Loretta - May 13, 2022 3:48 pm

    Absolutely ❤️ this story in your life journey.

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  51. Denise - May 13, 2022 4:05 pm

    I’m not sure how anyone could read a story like this and not believe God is still in the miracle business. Have a blessed day!

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  52. Dusty Bush - May 13, 2022 4:14 pm

    Well now, my dry itchy eyes are fully lubricated after reading your heartfelt post this morning (and yesterday’s as well titled “You Are Special”). When I read the headline and saw it included the word “hugger”, I knew it was going to be a Jim Dandy of a story because I know you love hugging and huggers. Today’s story provides a clear understanding of why you love hugs and huggers. Everyone should love a hug. Everyone needs a hug. I know that I always do love a hug and need one often.

    Thank you, Sean, for saying “I’m not a religious guy”. Because that is what God wants to hear from his children. God doesn’t want to have “religious” children. God wants to have a “relationship” with each of his children. So it is our individual, continual pursuit of a personal relationship with our creator and Heavenly Father God … through ones personal faith in His son Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior.

    Because of ones faith in God’s only son Jesus Christ, God hears our prayers and longs to hear our voices reach out to Him because he loves us and created us for a purpose in this world to be a blessing to others. And you, Sean Dietrich, are a true blessing to millions of people who read your inspiring heartfelt posts and have opportunity to see and hear you in person. You’re such a talented writer, storyteller and musician who has overcome so many difficulties, heartaches and hardships in your own life and are now being a blessing to Millions beyond your imagination. We are out here in the world following your writings and are being blessed, even though you don’t see us. Your post today (and yesterday and many more) encourages each of us in our personal faith in God that God hears our prayers. And sometimes, our prayers are in line with God’s overall plan for mankind and we get to see miraculous healings of others who we have prayed for for so long. That God’s work with them on this Earth is not done. And that they will be here awhile longer to be a blessing to others because of their hardships and how they overcame them with the love and support of many and of course the miraculous healing of God, our heavenly Father. So keep on keeping on, Sean. And keep praying. It is the conversation with God and He looks so forward to hearing from you and from all of His children who call Him Father. From Texas, the Lone Star State, -Dusty

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  53. Patricia Gibson - May 13, 2022 4:16 pm

    Praise God and thanks for sharing❤️ What a wonderful story.

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  54. Christina - May 13, 2022 4:21 pm

    You love well with your hugs, Sean!

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  55. pattymack43 - May 13, 2022 4:25 pm

    B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L.!!!!! And THANK YOU!!!

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  56. Stacy S - May 13, 2022 5:35 pm

    No matter what it is, Great Hugz make things better even if momentarily. Thanks for lifting my day!

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  57. Pat - May 13, 2022 6:09 pm

    What a beautiful story!! The human touch is most important. Thanks for sharing!!!

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  58. Ann of Mobile - May 13, 2022 6:28 pm

    This essay was indeed “a good one”! Another one. Thank you, Sean and Jamie!

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  59. Joe - May 13, 2022 8:14 pm

    Excellent and emotional. Thank you for sharing an answered prayer Love your gift of sharing

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  60. Linda Moon - May 13, 2022 8:15 pm

    You are a good hugger, Sean Dietrich. Yesterday I was with adults and children who needed and gave hugs. Reading about your little hugging friend who grew up to be a teenage girls was wonderful! And I’ll give you another big squeeze if I’m lucky enough to see you again, and I’ll thank you for telling me about the hugger.

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  61. Kathy - May 13, 2022 9:38 pm

    My mom always says hugs are therapeutic ! 🙂

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  62. MAM - May 13, 2022 11:20 pm

    That certainly released the tears! I much prefer happy tears, so that’s why they were prolific. Prayers DO get answered. Thanks for you wonderful words every day, Sean!

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  63. Lorraine - May 13, 2022 11:35 pm

    This is what I needed to read today. Thank you!

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  64. Cynthia Russell - May 13, 2022 11:51 pm

    Wished we could have heard the rest of this story.. hope for everyone!!!

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  65. Brant Riley - May 14, 2022 12:47 am

    A great story! Love it!

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  66. Carrie S. Shearer - May 14, 2022 2:06 am

    I’m crying. Again. I love your writing. It’s such a blessing to me

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  67. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - May 14, 2022 3:57 am

    God bless you, Sean. You touch people with your good heart. Thank you for giving us this happy ending!

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  68. Bob E - May 14, 2022 1:02 pm

    Continue your fine work – not just the writing – God bless you.

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  69. Sharon Crane - May 14, 2022 1:26 pm

    Please never stop writing! I love your stories. You definitely have the gift. Thank you Sean.

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  70. Sue Perry-Kun - May 14, 2022 4:14 pm

    Words fail me. This is such a beautiful example of God’s love. Keep writing please. God has given you a gift in your writing and you are using it well. God bless you.

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  71. Connie - May 14, 2022 6:43 pm

    Oh Sean. That has to be the best one yet. Oh how God uses you!!!

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  72. Jenny Young - May 14, 2022 9:26 pm

    Oh my goodness…such wonderful wonderful news!

    Someone told me a few yrs ago that when we hug to never be the first to let go. So that’s what I try to do. I never pull away first. I hold on until the person I’m hugging lets go. Most people pull away quickly but sometimes, someone just needs that long sweet hug.

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  73. Bonnie - May 14, 2022 9:55 pm

    Oh, wow, wasn’t expecting that. Obviously, you weren’t either. We just never know…

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  74. Ramon Presson, PhD, LMFT - May 15, 2022 2:52 am

    Sean, I’ve been a newspaper columnist in the Nashville, TN area for 15 years and I thought I was doing well to write one decent column every week. You’re knocking the ball out of the park DAILY. It’s one thing to be consistent and prolific. But your writing is outstanding every freakin’ day. Sure, my day job is trying to stay sane as a licensed marriage & family therapist, but still. If column-writing was my full-time gig I couldn’t write daily gems like this. I feel like the awe-struck and envious Salieri up against Mozart in “Amadeus.”

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  75. Layne Barrett - May 15, 2022 3:51 am

    Sean, you may not be a religious guy, but He was listening. Don’t think Jesus was a particularly religious guy, more of a relationship kind of fellow. Keep up the good work!

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  76. Cheryl Durbin - May 21, 2022 4:51 am

    The beauty of a physical hug is the intimacy that it offers the giver and the recipient. It is a personal touch that brings comfort and acceptance. Sean, God uses you and your incredible writing to give “hugs” to those who read your stories. Each one I read brings back a memory, because you share the extraordinary in the ordinary lives we live. Your stories reinforce our faith in our Heavenly Father, and faith in the innate goodness in our world. Please keep bringing those smiles to our hearts, and may you continue to be blessed.

    Reply
  77. Allen Berry - May 21, 2022 5:11 pm

    Dang it, Sean! You’ve got me ugly crying here in front of my computer! This was just beautiful!

    PhDude

    Reply

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