End of Life Massage
In the fall of '08, I was called upon to do a massage on a woman suffering from cancer, as a favor to my client wanting to do something nice for her friend. I accepted the honor not knowing the extent or progression of her cancer. I was soon to find out.
I mentally and physically prepared myself before the appointment. It was the only massage I booked for that day.
Upon arriving, I took a long deep clearing breath on the harvest decorated porch. Rang the bell and waited.
My client Nancy answered the door and thanked me for coming. The house was quiet and smelled of warm memories. Beautiful green healthy plants adorned the upstairs front window in the living room. I set up my table there. Nancy told me her friend was very weak and frail and has some lesions on her back she is embarrassed of. Nancy covered the lesions with a washcloth and surgical tape. I said I understand and asked Nancy if she would help me help her on the table.
Noreen walks into the room and introduces herself. She apologizes several times for her slow and belabored movements. I let her know right off the bat that I was there for her and I will make this experience a comfortable and enjoyable one. Nancy assures her that I was the best and have worked with cancer patients before. With Noreen on the table, Nancy makes her exit.
I asked Noreen what it was I could do for her. She told me that she likes her hands and feet massaged. I asked her if she has ever had a professional massage before. She said no, but was very excited to have her first and what would be only massage. Noreen's hearing was not good. I imagine it was the pain medication. This was not going to be easy. She was so sick and obviously in terrible pain. I again asked Noreen what I could do for her and more specifically what she would like my intention to be for her for this massage.
"Do you want me to help you let go or do you want to remain present?"
"Oh no", she says. "I am very much present and want to stay that way." I honored her request.
Noreen breathed in deep gasps. The air rattled in her chest and a gurgling sound vibrated her throat. At times there was an odor I could not put my finger on. I dabbed lavender oil under her nose. I continued to massage her skin which was so paper thin,
Thoughts started to flood my head like...The will to live so strong even in the presence of death! Why would you want to stay present here being sick? I pushed these thoughts away during the massage and have contemplated them often since.
I helped Noreen turn over to massage her back, The washcloth covering the broken skin on her shoulders had shifted. I did my best to cover them back up but the tape that once held the washcloth in place would not adhere. Then I knew the smell of rotting flesh. I could have cried, but I stayed grounded. The smell in the room was totally unavoidable now. At one point I thought she was asleep or as close to rest as she could be; then her heart rate increased and I knew she was having a hard time breathing. The words were on my tongue to suggest we should end now when Noreen beat me to it. I helped her up to a sitting position and got her some water. She moved to the couch and Nancy came back into the room.
Noreen thought the massage was wonderful and was genuinely appreciative. I thought Noreen was a graceful person, wise and older then her years. She said she would like another massage one day. Noreen did not want to die. She offered to make tea and asked if I cared for a cup. I could not stay, I had to get home. All I wanted to do was go home and see my family and take a good look at what I have. i appreciated the offer, but I was spent. I ran out of there although I did not want to seem that way.
Back in my car, I took a deep breath and thanked God for the strength and said a prayer for Noreen.
Noreen had her massage on Thursday, she passed away on Saturday, the same week.
I was honored to give Noreen a massage.
I hope to meet Noreen again someday.