I was a Designated Hugger

by Kira Lallas, LMSW

As a bereavement counselor for Hospicare, part of my job is to reach out to loved ones of those who’ve died on hospice services. This can mean coming in to contact with all kinds of people, from many backgrounds, with a variety of needs and temperaments at a very vulnerable time of life.

It is important to be open and to let people know I genuinely care about their well-being as they face loss, as well as to be sensitive to people who don’t want to open up and may not want to share what they’re facing. So my approach is direct and responsive, ready to be present with people and cautious to let them be if they’d like.

When I was a hugger for Women Swimmin’, my job was to greet swimmers as they came out of the water after their swim, to embrace, congratulate, and thank them. As the first swimmers came in, I could feel a similar sense of cautiousness about immediately hugging people that I might have not met before – did they want to be hugged? Was that too direct or close for some? Should I really hug everyone?

But as the women actually climbed out of the water onto the dock, excited and proud, smiling and sometimes crying, I too became excited and proud, and was smiling and sometimes crying. I felt so moved by these hundreds of women who had spent long weeks or months asking friends, family, and strangers for donations, readying their bodies to make the swim, and readying their hearts to feel whatever they might in honor of one or many loved ones who’ve died.

Needless to say it was both fun and moving to be a hugger at Women Swimmin. And, as so often happens when offering families support: what seems like Hospicare giving to patients or families is in fact others truly giving to Hospicare, by sharing such a special and intimate time of life with us. Instead of giving hundreds of hugs that Saturday in August, it turned out I received them.

This article was originally published in Hospicare’s September 2012 e-newsletter. At the time, Kira was the Hospice and Community Bereavement Counselor. While she is no longer in that role, Kira continues her involvement with Hospicare as a per diem social worker and occasionally leads special bereavement groups. She’s also continues to support Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare.