A client of mine passed away several days ago. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me considering a segment of my massage practice is elderly and in declining health. When I began working in geriatric massage, I knew it was a niche I would find rewarding and fulfilling. I never gave much thought to dealing with death as a part of my practice. Well, here it is staring me right in the face.
I have massaged this frail yet determined woman every two weeks for the last two years. My biggest question has always been, “Do I make any difference for her?” She was very ill for those two years and I had to modify the massages to adjust for her changing conditions. These massages weren’t like the deep, muscle unwinding work I was accustomed to doing. Mindful touch and honoring her fragile body were the best techniques I could muster.
I started looking for answers to my question and the following words of wisdom from author Gayle Macdonald opened my eyes and guided me toward caring for the whole person rather than following a treatment plan:
One of the best ways for therapists to lessen the demand is to let go of any intention to fix the person beneath their hands. When practitioners want to “fix,” that expectation places a demand on the client, a goal that implies success or failure. And, as author Rachel Naomi Remen points out, “There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing. Fixing is a form of judgment.”
To be present with people is enough —to embrace their bodies and psyches just as they are. People change when they are received in this way. (MacDonald, Gayle, Bodywork for Cancer Patients, the Need for a Less-Demanding Approach, Massage and Bodywork Magazine, June/July 2005)
I know this kind woman suffered. I could see it in her eyes on some days, but she never gave in and always kept partaking of life. So I hope that, yes, I did make a difference in the quality of this woman’s life, if only for a half hour every two weeks. I also learned that being present and focused during a massage session is more valuable and healing than the illusion of fixing.