Sunday, January 20, 2013

Voices of Experience: Soul Hunger in Love and Loss

Once again (with his permission) I am privileged to share one of Harry Proudfoot’s beautiful posts. Readers may recall that Harry’s beloved wife Jane died of neuroendocrine tumor cancer (NET) in December of 2010. Harry is dedicated to killing the cancer that took his wife, and Walking with Jane is the foundation he established in her memory. His goal is “to provide one-stop access to the latest information about Neuroendocrine Cancer, Neuroendocrine Tumors and Carcinoid Syndrome research, treatment and events in support of patients, caregivers, physicians, and research and charitable efforts.” Read more about Harry’s efforts here.

I looked at myself in the mirror the other day—I mean really looked—not like I do when I shave or brush my teeth. I did not recognize the person staring back at me in the glass. Jane’s death 25 months ago from NET cancer has changed me as much physically as mentally and emotionally.

I don’t know what caused me to look. Maybe it was a passing glance that turned to fascination. But had I seen me in the street I would not have known me. Even the eyes have changed. There is sternness there instead of the twinkle I had grown used to over our 21 years three months and eight days of marriage. And my smile has died.

I should not be surprised. Our lives were two intertwined vines, locked together from root to crown. No gardener could have pulled out one without damaging the other. When the NET cancer ripped her away, half my roots and stems and branches went with her—and the bits of her that remain tangled in me have hardened to such stiffness that removing them would kill what is left of me.

Over time I will grow around those parts of her that remain in me—encase them within the bark of my being. But for now, they are all sharp and brittle. They scrape against me and wear down the edges of me, leaving dark scars and avenues for invasion of the soft tissue beneath.

Eventually, perhaps, those sores will callus over. I am in no position to know. My vegetable existence is caught up in the moment. I explore the pain of it like a tongue caressing the place in the mouth the teeth have just errantly bit. The taste of it is salty and bitter and tinged with the regret of a self-inflicted wound.

I’ve been reading a book—From We to Me. At one point the authors talk about something they call “skin hunger.” We are addicted to our lover’s touch—and when it vanishes we become so starved for it that the hunger leaves us open to a thousand poor relationship choices.

I know precisely what they are talking about. There was not a day we did not touch in those 21 years. At the end we held hands at every opportunity—and would have held each other more closely if we could have. Before they sealed her casket, I stood alone in the chapel and kissed her forehead, nose, and lips as I had every night before we slept. And before they lowered the coffin into the ground, I gave it one last kiss, wishing it were her.

And now, there is nothing. I go days—sometimes weeks—with no physical contact with another human being of any kind. I crave even a handshake—and a hug…a hug is a pleasure almost beyond imagining. But neither of those comes close to the feel of her next to me in the bed at night—an hours’ long snuggle that stands in memory like a myth of the gods.

But there is a thing even worse than that physical absence. I had no name for it until two days ago. I call it “soul hunger.” And it is a privation that makes “skin hunger” the merest wisp of desire by comparison. If friends are, as Plato would have it, a single soul in two bodies, what, then, are lovers, whose unity grows out of true friendship?

I miss Jane’s touch; I miss touching her; but it is the absence of her soul that grieves me most and throws my mind into chaos. A hug can be had for the price of a hug—but there is no price nor barter for the brush of a vanished soul.

© 2013 by Harry Proudfoot, Walking with Jane

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Also by Harry Proudfoot:


  1. What a beautiful description of your pain and craving, dear sir! Thank you for that.
    I have recently taken care of a 92 y old man in a hospice. I am a touchy kind of person so I touched his shoulder and held his hand. We talked. Then he asked me, very shy, if it might be possible to be hugged. He told me he hadn't been hugged in more than thirty years, since his wife died. I hugged him tightly, again and again, and he cried. Deep, soundless sobs came from far down his body. we hugged for almost 20 minutes, and than I sat next to him, still holding his hand, and stroking his knee.
    he didn't say a word all that time, neither did I. No "now,now" and "there,there".
    He repostured himself and we talked a little as I helped him to bed, about little things. He died two days later - I haven't seen him. The coordinator told me the old man had said that this big hug and the release of tears mend the world to him and gave him peace. It made me feel that hugging in care taking is an appropriate means to healing a soul, and I feel confident to use it again, if needed. I hope it helps some one -although I will never be able to help on the soulhunger, I can give a little "skinfood".

    1. The gift you gave to this dying man was priceless, my friend. Clearly you are one of the earthly angels whose calling is hospice care. Thank you for sharing this experience with us, and may God bless you for your warm and caring heart. ♥

  2. This is truly a touching story and one that reaches into my soul. I know that every person who has lost a spouse (including me) would give the world to be hugged for 20 minutes. It just does not happen. 20 seconds, maybe a minute...We tend to forget that many people (elderly, the dying, widow/ers and more) are never touched. That caregiver is a grace in that man's life.

  3. Keukenprinses, your gift was priceless indeed! I'm glad you listened to this gentleman's need and gave him the gift of touch.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. [Kay, my dear, I removed this comment simply because it was a duplicate of the one above ♥)

  5. This man's story really touches me. I lost my father a few years back. I would give anything to have my dad give me a hug or just to talk to him about everything that has happened in the past few years. I miss him daily, but his memory will continue.

  6. Thank you for sharing this story ... It really touches my heart. I lost my father a few years back and miss him terribly. I wish he was here to give me a hug or to talk to and let him know that I am ok and how my life is good and I'm happily married, which I know he would be so happy for me

  7. I have read and re-read Harry's story on Soul Hunger and I am more convinced than ever that when we have lost our soul mate we have lost a part of us. A part of our soul is missing and that human touch will never be again. We need to reach out and offer the hugs we know give us a comfort that can not be described. It just is and it needs to be offered. Anne


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