When it comes to sensuality—being fully present in our five senses—we most often think of it as a way we feel when we are most vital and alive. We feel the touch of a partner’s hand, the sound of a loved one’s laugh. We enjoy the taste of chocolate or salted caramel. We smell the heavenly aromas of coffee and cinnamon at our local bakery. As we stroll through April gardens, our eyes feast on the wash of Spring colors.
We don’t often consider the profound healing impact of sensuality as it applies to the full spectrum of living—life all the way to death. But being a caregiver changed that for me. Even the experience of decline and death holds sensuality.
I remember near the end of my husband’s life, as the days became increasingly challenging for him, how his senses contributed mightily to the quality of his remaining time. Eric loved looking out the window by his bed. Even though he couldn’t eat much, he loved the smell of desserts baking. His cat was his constant companion, and a source of hours of comfort. Sitting near his bed while reading, I propped a book against my knees with my left hand, the other on Eric’s shoulder while he fell asleep.
Early on a March morning in 2017, Eric took his last breath. His once strong, naturally athletic 175 pound body had wasted away from cancer into practically nothing. But dying meant he was finally pain free. His death was a relief, and also the most unholy measure of grief I have ever experienced.
A few minutes after Eric died, my daughter, MacKenzie, and I walked into his room, and to our surprise, we felt elation. It was the very last emotion we could have predicted—that we would feel jubilation!—but there it was, full-on ecstasy as if every particle of air was celebrating his release. MacKenzie turned to me, and I to her, as she said, “Oh, wow, do you feel that?” I nodded in wonder. The rapture became so intense that we began to laugh softly, with our hands on our hearts. Eric had become a thousand pieces of light. We joined in and let ourselves feel the joy of it.
After time to fully appreciate the exhilaration, we wrapped Eric in his favorite blanket, put a bouquet of woodland flowers in his arms, and spent a luxurious couple of hours with his body. It might sound truly odd to say, but Eric’s death was a sensual experience.
There were all the sensual moments taking care of him, followed by the truth of his passing—the joy and elation—along with the broken-heartedness of saying goodbye. Even grief is a sensual experience. Feeling the depth of my love for him and the anguish of the loss of his physical presence was intense, especially for the first year. It has taken time to orient myself to life without him, and gradually, to begin to imagine meeting and building a life with a new partner.
Three years later, I’m feeling more spacious and open. The thought of meeting men feels pleasant, even natural. In fact, lately I’m reminded of sensual experiences from my past, and how important they were in my development as a woman. In my thirties, I had been casually dating a guy I enjoyed—he was kind, with an open heart. We had been sensual with each other, but not sexual. One evening he called to say his best friend was coming to town, and asked if the two of them could “share me.”
Of course I asked what that meant, exactly.
His idea was to “put me in the middle,” that we would go on a date as a threesome. No sex, but plenty of touching, kissing, and hugging, as if we three had been long-time friends. He asked if I could I be with them intimately—equally? He asked how I felt about having four hands on me, which made me laugh.
After discussion, I felt safe and good about what he was asking for. Besides, my friend was my kind of handsome, and I loved the way he had treated me so far. I agreed to join the two of them for a night on the town.
This beautiful man and his best friend did, in fact, put me in the middle for our evening out. The three of us hooked arms, and strolled around Los Angeles as if glued together. Nobody was drunk or high, and I loved that, too.
What developed for us that evening felt sacred—that we felt a sensual appreciation for each other in a way that was beautiful, free and natural. Our connection with each other felt soft around the edges, as gentle as floating on the surface of a smooth lake on a warm summer evening. We brushed across each other. Touches were as light as a butterfly landing on a flower, kisses were both intense and fleeting.
After a long and elaborate African meal, which we ate with our fingers, we went dancing. All three of us danced together for hours, in creative, sensual, and ever-evolving ways. Neither of them ever crossed the line or changed their mind mid-way. I must confess that there were points during the evening where I was oh-so-tempted to bend the rules, but the two of them gently ushered me back to center. They shared me and treated me with love, care, and protection, just as they’d promised.
At the end of the evening, they double-wrapped themselves around me as the thanking began. I expressed my appreciation for one of the most beautiful experiences I had ever had. Many years later, it still is. They offered hilarious and tender re-enactments of what they loved most about being together. The front door goodbye was a long one.
To this day, the kindness of that evening remains in my heart. Being a goddess surrounded by strong, sacred masculine energy for ten hours straight is an experience that still feels as sensual, holy and good as the night it happened. Because of them, my appreciation and expression of my sensual self blossomed, and to this day continues to grow.
While life’s hustle and bustle might cause us to overlook the healing power of our senses, perhaps one exhilarating early morning walk with our dog as the light comes up, as the birds begin to call to one another, encourages us to remember to move through our days more awake to our senses.
The world is both golden and dangerous. It is wrought with fear, and brimming with love. To miss this depth and breadth is to miss the pulse, the spirit of being alive. At the end of a life, we don’t care so much about the fever-pitch of accomplishment, but rather—have I lived with reverence, knowing that I’m a little harbor that opens to a vast ocean? Did I allow myself the enjoyment of the many ways Earth offers pleasure? Am I open to my new Spring? Today, have I let my spirit soar?
Terri’s book of photography combined with poetry: 100 Words: Small Servings of Whimsy and Wisdom to Calm the Mind and Nourish the Heart.