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Emily

My first job in senior care was on the memory care floor of a nursing home.  All the residents were in the later stages of some kind of cognitive decline.  Most of them spoke very little, some not at all.  One of these was Emily.

Emily smiled quietly from her chair whenever anyone said her name.  Her posture was perfect.  She folded her hands beautifully in her lap until something — anything — was placed on the table in front of her.  Then she would gently pick up the object and examine it with her hands, gently, with divine attention.

Emily had striking deep brown, almost black, eyes.  Her eyebrows were still a deep black, while the rest of her hair was gray.  Emily rarely noticed anything outside the reach of her hands.  When it was time for her to move from one room to another, she stood slowly and took the arm of whoever walked with her.  She took short, shuffling steps, like many of the other people on the floor.

Every day, just after lunch, Emily’s husband came to visit with her.  He greeted her in the dining room.  Every day, her serene countenance grew into a wide open smile as soon as she saw him.  Her eyes sparkled and her pale cheeks flushed pink.  They walked down the hall, arm-in-arm, and went to Emily’s room where they would sit next to each other and hold hands.  Sometimes, her husband would brush her hair, or show her pictures of the grandchildren.  After an hour or two, around the time Emily started to fall asleep in her chair, her husband kissed her on the forehead and said goodbye until the next day.

selective focus photography of left hand on top of right hand on white pants
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I had the privilege of witnessing so many love stories like this one in that job.  Emily and her husband hold a special place in my heart because their tenderness was unshakeable.  On rare days, Emily would get anxious and almost angry.  She couldn’t sit still and would not hold her husband’s hand.  He still looked at her with the same unshiftable tenderness.  On these days he would try to stroke her hair or sing to her.  If nothing worked, he would simply sit and love her.

The absolute simplicity of his presence, every single day, reminds me how much we all have to offer each other.  If we will only just show up, and be present with another human with no judgement.

Massage Tales, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Don’t Rush the Intake

I have unusual leisure in my practice — I can usually take as long as I feel necessary for an initial intake.  Despite the added stress of being in business for myself, this leisure is one of the things that makes it all worth while.  Here’s a story about that.   All client details have been changed.

My new client arrived late.  She had trouble finding the building, then had to circle around a few times to find parking.  She walked in already a bit anxious because of the time, and because it was her first massage.  I left her in the quiet of the waiting area to finish the health history form and assured her there would be time for most of the scheduled session.

She handed back her completed form, and we began our conversation.  I took my time, making sure to ask about everything she had marked on the form.  After I felt sure that I understood her health history, I told her what to expect during the massage:  how to get onto the table, what parts of her body I would touch and in what order, how draping worked, etc.

She smiled and nodded through this whole explanation.  As I finished she said, “That all sounds so good.”  She paused. “I want you to know, though, that when you get to the front part of my legs I might tense up a little,” she raised her shoulders and tensed her arms, then released them, “See, I’ve been sexually assaulted and I just might be a little nervous.”  She had a friendly smile on her face and tears in her eyes.

I settled further down into my seat.  We had more conversation about how she was in charge of the massage, and that she could tell me at any time to change or stop what I was doing.  “You get to direct how and where you are touched,” I told her.

If I had to rush the intake, I might have missed this vital fact about how she experienced her own body.  I certainly would have missed the chance to reinforce for her that she has dominion over her own body.  I might have never been able to build enough trust with this other human that she revealed her own fears to me.

person holding hand
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She arrived late, and the intake took longer than “normal.”  In that extra time, she was able to trust me a little more and reveal something vitally important.  This helped me approach her with more compassion and awareness.  She emerged from the massage smiling wide.  She thanked me and gave me a hug, and made an appointment to come back again.  This never would have happened if I rushed the intake.

Massage Tales, Modalities, Thoughts on the profession

Presence over Pressing

Yesterday I had one of the best days in my massage career in Louisville.

The day started with a visit to a hospice client*.  I spent a half hour moving slowly around her as she rested in bed, breathing deeply and slowly falling asleep.  Her skin was pale and papery thin.  I could see the round outline of her knee through her sheets.  This person, this frail body, needed nothing so much as my focused attention.  I softened my hands and laid them gently on her arms, shoulders, knees.  I held her hands in mine and gently moved her fingers.  I held her head while she breathed and relaxed her arms.  the thought came to me slowly, in the way that you might realize light has come into your bedroom in the morning.  The thought was:  how wonderful it feels to be exactly where I ought to be.

Later in the day, I worked with a few clients at my office, “healthy” clients who did not require the same kinds of adaptations as the morning client.  Even so, some part of the stillness from the morning stayed with me, as did the sense of peaceful presence.  With the people I had worked with before, I noticed a new layer of quiet reverence.  The stillness in me brings forth and honors the stillness in you.

As I am reflecting on this good day, I am remembering something a friend told me.  She came to visit for a weekend, and scheduled a massage with me during her visit.  We used to trade on a regular basis when I lived in Chicago, so she has received numerous massages from me.  After her massage, she hugged me and she said,”Your hands feel different.  It feels like your touch has come into its own here.  This place suits you.”

And she is right.  This place suits me.  Not just this physical place, but the place that holds the kind of work I did yesterday.  The place of calm ease and stillness.  The place where presence is so much more important than pressing.

*–any names and identifying details have been changed