I usually go to Maine to relax and immerse myself in the beautiful scenery, it is my nature therapy. The ocean with the sound of the waves rolling on the beach, the walks along rocky cliffs that inspires me with the feeling that time ceases to mean anything and I could walk all day. I do hunts at sunrise and sunset, photo hikes to find the most interesting rocks, shells, cliffs, flowers, water drops hanging from the tips of the leaves. Making the trip more special has always included the opportunity to visit friends.
This year our trip was suddenly changed by the death of my dear friend’s husband. Coming to Maine now was about helping comfort, being there to help in whatever way I could. All the compassionate care that I learned as a cancer massage therapist was now being put to the test on a much more personal level. To see such a grievance, all he wanted to do was help out in any way he could and say the right things at the right time. I knew that all I am trained to do is listen, there is no way I can relate, there are no suggestions to make me feel better day by day, or even month by year. During my time with her, I pulled out all the tools from my compassionate care toolbox; hugging, sitting quietly, working very hard not to say something insensitive. I also quickly remembered the importance of serving small amounts of food.
It’s amazing how quickly I evaluated the kitchen and found all the ingredients for the chicken soup. Making the soup filled my need to do something useful. The aroma throughout the kitchen reminds you of the need to eat. Freezing small amounts that would be eaten once I left made it easier to leave. I quickly realized that I would take over the driving; Concentration was not possible, as well as engaging in meaningless conversation to distract yourself, make difficult phone calls, and help with difficult appointments.
Offering my friend a chair massage, I had to understand that she might refuse, but she accepted the offer and created a comfortable place for her to sit. I gently put my hands on his back and let his breath connect with my hands. I knew I was doing more than just “holding” her, I was trying to help her hold on, to hold it all together without falling apart, holding a friend in the palm of my hands. I can easily explain the relaxation response to a room full of massage therapists; I understand how a gentle touch affects the vagus nerve in a positive way. Staying with my friend, I witnessed intense pain and honestly didn’t know if I could ease the trauma that was causing her not to sleep, eat, relax, think rationally, and make any kind of decisions. I prayed that when I massaged her back I could feel her breath relax, see her shoulders drop, and acknowledge that deep sigh that means letting go of physical and emotional tension.
We fell silent and I knew that the hours of pain had created the tension I was feeling. He was complaining of neck and shoulder pain from a previous surgery that definitely helped increase muscle tension. I went up and down her back to find the spots along her spine that needed the warmth of my hands. My techniques were gentle compression, light pressure from her shoulders to her lower back in a rhythm that seemed to ease her breathing. The massages lasted about 15 minutes. It became obvious that the changes I could feel on the outside were having an effect on the inside as well. I noticed her breathing easier and only for a few minutes did I notice her shoulders relax. It is something that is very familiar to me, helping patients with cancer treatment. This time I really wanted to offer a compassionate touch to a friend. We both ended up calling their massages “grief massages.”
Leaving was very difficult, I knew I had to do something to keep her “on my mind” and allow us to be connected over long distances. I made a one-year commitment to stay in touch by sending him one of my nature photos every morning. My way of connecting with a beautiful photography to reflect on. It is a reminder to me that the pain you are living with will not end anytime soon and I will be respectful of that and be there to listen as you regain your balance and continue your life without it.
Tips for giving a simple massage at home
- Comfort is important to both of you. Sit the person to be massaged on the kitchen table and use a pillow to support the arms. Sit behind them to make sure they are comfortable too.
- It’s all about a soft touch and simple compression. This is not deep work to fix a problem.
- Use music to help you relax into a simple rhythm that allows your hands to rest and move up and down the muscles along your spine.
- Lightly compress the shoulders to the base of the neck. Compress your head and feel that you are helping them to “hold on.”
- Limit yourself to 15 minutes.
- Repeat it as often as you can and they will be receptive.