Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Some people are natural-born huggers. I learned this about Mike right from the start Ð he was a hugging friend. Always glad to run into you and willing to prove his point with a spontaneous and heartfelt embrace.
Everyone has a friend like Mike. If you don't, you should. I can't say he and I were the closest of friends. He just made me feel that way. That's how Mike was.
So, earlier this year when he showed up on the bleachers in the row in front of me at my son's hockey game, I instinctively leaned over to give him a hug. It was a precarious physical moment because he stood a level below me and had to turn, twist and reach up to return the embrace. I nearly lost my footing and fell from my upper perch. Awkward doesn't even begin to describe it.
I wasn't expecting to see him, which may explain my impulsive behavior. While Mike was an icon at the hockey arena, his son wasn't playing in the game we were watching. Mike was there to support the other kids in town.
This should not have surprised me. Mike was like that. A supporter. A cheerleader (although I'm pretty sure he didn't own any pompons). He liked kids. He loved people. Mike was a friend. To everyone.
Even so, I thought about the awkwardness later, wondering if hugs should only be extended on level ground. Perhaps I'd been too eager to offer a hug. I didn't want to come across as a stalking, hug-hungry hockey mom. The probable rules of appropriate hugging tickled at my brain for a short while afterward.
Then life pressed on. I attended other hockey games; saw other friends Ð even hugged a few. The awkward embrace wasn't a big deal. Just a tickle on the brain.
I figured maybe Mike and I would laugh about it the next time we met up at the arena.
That never happened. Shortly after I surprised Mike with a hug on the bleachers, the doctors surprised him with a diagnosis no one wants to hear. Cancer. Brain. Inoperable.
That was roughly two months ago. I attended his funeral this weekend.
An outpouring of family and friends showed how dearly Mike was loved by everyone who knew him. As people reflected on their memories, thoughts about the awkwardness of our last hug returned to me.
I'd questioned my actions on the bleachers that day and thought perhaps I'd been too demonstrative, too impulsive, too friendly. I think if I'd spotted Mike on the bleachers a second time during the hockey season, I may have offered a smile and a wave. There's a good chance I would have avoided the awkward hug.
What a mistake that would have been.
I haven't always been a hugger. People like Mike have taught me about the joy and beauty of the embrace. I remember the first time I received one of Mike's hugs. He caught me off guard because we were such new friends. The moment might even be described as awkward and impulsive. It also made me feel like Mike was genuinely glad to see me. That's how he was with everyone he met. Happy to see you.
No one knows what the future holds. All we have is here and now. What we do with it is up to us.
I hugged Mike that day on the bleachers. It may have been impetuous and awkward. I may have been excessively eager and friendly. Perhaps I even made Mike feel as though I was delighted to see him.
Gosh, I hope so.
Jill Pertler, award-winning syndicated columnist and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication" is collecting fans on Facebook on her Slices of Life page. E-mail her at
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