“Touch has a memory.
O say, love, say,
What can I do to kill it
and be free?”
– John Keats
Touch is one of the earliest sensations that we experience.
Even in our mother’s womb, we feel warmth, comfort, security.
We feel movement of fluid. We feel vibrations of sound. We feel the movement of our mother’s body as she moves through her daily life.
I like to think we even feel love.
Throughout our earliest days and on into childhood, most of us feel the loving touch of those who are tasked with watching over us. Holding us, stroking, hugging and kissing us. We touch things with our hands, our mouths, our feet. Things and people touch us. Touching is one of our ways of discovering the world.
Later, as we grow and mature, we experience touching in a different way -caressing, exciting, pleasing.
For what is a life without those tactile sensations that we can both give and receive?
Sometimes touch can be unwanted. Sometimes touch is confusing, painful and distressing. It can be cruel and physically painful.
But the touch of those we love is needed, wanted, yearned for even.
But back to Keats. Touch definitely has a memory. The memory of private moments, loving kisses, laughter and sadness. We touch each other for all those reasons. And when that time is done, the memory remains. The memory of a touch can definitely imprison one, making you want to be free of the pain it causes. But not free of the memory, just the pain.
This yearning for touch, the memory of touch, begins long before the physical departure of its source. The caregiver yearns for what is now lost. The lost one yearns for those infantile touches again. The hugs, the security, the warmth. Regressing to those comfortable days in the womb. Safe and cosseted.
In FTD, once cognitive skills decline, the primal senses become more acute. The simple hug or holding of hands becomes like a lifeline. In the very late stages, as with many other fatal illnesses, just being close or touching a hand, face, or head, can be soothing.
In my profession as a nurse, a healing touch has been shown to be a real and evidentiary thing. I have held complete strangers as they breathed their last. Knowing that one of their last sensations is that someone was holding their hand, soothing their brow.
I have been the first person to touch a new body as it emerges into our world.
I like to think that there is a memory somewhere deep inside all of these souls that knows I consider those first and last touches to be a privilege of the highest order.
In my personal experience, I can attest that the memory of those final touches at the end of our FTD journey will live within me forever. Holding our granddaughter is still branded in my touch memory three years after she died aged three months and seventeen days. Painful or not, the imprint of the touch on my heart, hands and face is a reminder of where we have been, who we are and what we have loved and lost.
Touch. “What can I do to kill it and be free?’. Thankfully I don’t want to. Killing the touch memory would be to kill everything that I hold dear. I can tolerate the pain. I can tolerate the longing. But losing the memories?
I could never tolerate that.