In an earlier post I wrote about massage for grief. Recent life experience now leads me to talk about compassionate care massage. There are studies abound about the benefits of touch. I found an interesting read from UC Berkeley, Hands on Research: The Science of Touch. It’s an older article, published in 2010, but it talks about how little Americans touch each other, positive effects of touch, and there’s an interesting segment about how we communicate compassion (and other emotions) through touch. It also says we don’t need to get crazy – don’t go groping your neighbor people!
I accepted my first Compassion Care client in October 2015. A 45 year old cancer patient with 100% dementia. He became familiar with me, but would never have been able to tell you my name. Twice a week I would flit into his room with a skip in my step and a song in my voice (usually a TA-DAAA: it’s ERIN THE MASSAGE THERAPIST!) occasionally accompanied by Jazz Hands. His mother coordinated the massage as a gift for him because he loved massage so much. Why did he love it? Well, really, who doesn’t love massage?? Okay, okay, I know you’re out there, but you probably haven’t subscribed to a blog about massage, which means you aren’t even reading this… In all seriousness, the other reason patients love massage is because the therapists never ask anything of their clients. We aren’t drawing blood, we aren’t changing clothes, bedpans, there are no needles, no medicine, no pain. The patient doesn’t have to DO ANYTHING. We provide comforting touch that relieves pain and helps them relax. We help bring them peace.
Over the past seven months we had small chats. He was a man of very few words. He’d ask me about his sons, if he should buy a place in the Keys (um yeah!), where would I go if I could go anywhere on vacation? His favorite part of the massage? The beginning, because he knew he had an hour left to go. On days he was particularly down, I’d end our sessions with a silly song from the past: A little My Sharona, some Michael Jackson (he said, “You can never go wrong with Michael”), and usually it would make him break a smile.
The days weren’t always great or easy. Some were frustrating, some made me cry. His mom shared with me that his whole demeanor would change when she’d tell him I was coming. He’d flash a smile and they’d count down the minutes together until I arrived. She said I was one of the few things that brought him joy and that made her eternally grateful to me. Giving that gift to him and to her is what made it worth it to me.
He passed on May 4, 2016. I am grieving the loss. I knew from the beginning that this was the only possible outcome, but it doesn’t make it less painful. I am glad to have met him. I am glad to have helped bring him joy in his final days. I am glad to have met his mother. I am glad to have met others at the hospice center. Those blessings certainly outweigh the pain.