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Empowerment Through Touch

“Hugs never fail to express what words cannot.”

A standing room only crowd filled the hall at the Unitarian Centre on March 27th to listen to Allan O’Meara and Marian Cohen talk about ‘The Healing Power of Touch’.

Marian opened the session by warmly welcoming those gathered and introducing her 4-footed partner, Mollie, a delightful Shih Tzu, with soulful Jewish eyes-as described by an audience member. Marian told us that Molly was a rescue dog, who is now, in turn, paying it forward by helping others to live a better life.

Marian has completed the St John’s Ambulance program with Molly, and now goes to Crofton Manor as well as the Children’s Hospital brightening the day for all whom she and Molly visit.

At the Vancouver Public Library, children who need help in reading seem to enjoy reading to Molly who just laps it all up!

Allan O’Meara, a recreational therapist at Crofton Manor, works with elderly seniors who have dementia and other related disabilities, emphasized that touch and holding are part of the most important aspect of his work with them.

Following that vein, he had the audience smile and face a neighbour, first to the left and then right, extend a hand in greeting and then ask, after awhile, permission to hug them–and that was easily granted by almost all.
A variety of hugs were demonstrated by Marian and Allan; the A-frame, the cheek to cheek and even included the sandwich hug with Sylvia Gurstein, a member of the audience serving as the “cheese”-sandwiched between the two speakers and receiving a ‘HUG’ t-shirt for participating.

The audience was then asked to name some of the various hugs there are and how receiving them made them feel: cared for, loved, protected, nurtured, in love, validated – were some of the responses.

Pet owners and former pet owners were asked to share their pet stories and many regaled us with some emotion–telling us tales of how having pets enriched their lives, giving them unconditional love, relieving loneliness, bestowing love, easing anxiety, providing excuses for exercise and offering protection. A comment made by Serge Haber, JSA President, that even one’s wife doesn’t greet her husband with the pure joy that a pet does, brought much appreciated laughter.

Marian and Allan reported that when Marian visits, it is Molly who is greeted with joy–and then the gaze travels upward to see who MOLLY BROUGHT. The visit often relieves pain in both youngsters receiving therapy and elicits a grateful response from usually non-responsive patients, incredibly bridging all ages, seeming to mend ills and replacing tears with smiles in the hearts of those who need it.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo Buscaglia
We all felt that our lives were made a little better today by our exchanging hugs, our touching one another with our shared words and stories, and with our hearts.

Our thanks to the JSA and the Day-Timers who brought us this gentle, thoughtful and calming session..and even topped it off with delicious refreshments to send us on our way.

Binny Goldman

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