I have been interested in loss and end of life issues for as long as I can remember.
Our days do not continue forever. They come to an end. My curiosity about the philosophical and theological implications of this fact led me as a young man into a religious studies major and then on to the University of Chicago Divinity School and, after that, into a training program as a hospital chaplain. During my training as a hospital chaplain I worked with patients and their families in emergency rooms, a hospice unit and wherever else I was needed in a large hospital.
I am not interested in resuming my former role as a hospital chaplain but participating in oncology and hospice massage feels like a return to a way of being with people I feel led to serve as best I am able, this time through laying on of hands.
I find the technical considerations of oncology and hospice massage are not very difficult.
I attended a four-day oncology massage workshop in 2018 and the main thing I took from that training is the idea that frail people need gentle massage. The long flowing strokes of Esalen massage are easily adapted to be made gentle enough for the needs of oncology and hospice patients.
The energetic side of attending people at the end of life is where the challenge is.
Really and truly, for each of us and everyone we love, our days will not go on forever. We will come to the end of our days. This is an uncomfortable truth a lot of people prefer to avoid at almost any cost.
Recently I gave massages to two people, a father and his son. The father had advanced metastatic cancer and a poor prognosis. One of the father’s major life tasks at that point was processing the fact that he was nearing the end of his days. His son was there with him that day and the son’s major life task was to assist his father as he prepared for his death. These are both big jobs. The son asked me to come to his father’s home and give each of them a massage. I was happy to comply.
I consistently find that there are moments of grace that arise from attending dying people and their families.
Naomi Remen is a physician who counsels terminally ill patients and their families. In her books she describes the gifts that can arise from being present at the dying process of a loved one. I experience this gift as a fresh sense of what really matters. What is really important. What connections really count. Naomi Remen describes it as the last gift of the dying to the living.
This gift – the last gift of the dying to the living – is worth showing up for. It is worth taking into your heart a fresh sense of what really matters, what is really important, what connections really count. When your time comes will you regret not working more weekends for your corporate job? Maybe not.
That is why I have sought out oncology and hospice massage.
If you or a family member have a need for oncology or hospice massage, reach out to me if you like. Until then: The Lord bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
This is Andy with Atlanta Esalen Massage.