Yes, you read that correctly. These words were spoken by my boss at the Hand to Heart Project, Steve Gordon when we were discussing the most fulfilling aspect of our work…hospice care. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my very first hospice client was my late father in law who passed in 2018. Up until his last three days I didn’t know how to hold space for someone who was in the process of dying. I felt so uncomfortable with it. So removed from it. So unfamiliar with it. His final gift to me was the opportunity to work on him in his last hours of life. I am so grateful for that.
Fast forward a few years to the fall of 2020. My friend Cynthia just started caretaking two days a week for a friend’s mother. She asks me if I’d be interested in working with her client; a 93 year old woman named Carol who was facing the last few months of her life. At that point she was mostly in bed but her presence was still strong despite having Alzheimers. I start seeing her weekly in her home. I work on the areas that I am able to access. Her chest, arms, hands. Then I get in bed behind her to work on her neck, shoulders, and her face. She says things like “I’m floating…I’m in heaven…oh you’re my angel.” It took her a few sessions but over time she was able to remember who I was. I was deeply touched by this. She said she loved my smile.
In the midst of my journey with Carol I start working with a non profit called the Hand to Heart Project. We provide free massage treatments to cancer patients & their caregivers. We also take hospice referrals. Two of my first clients are in hospice. One woman I was able to see just 12 hours before she passed. Her words to me at the end of her session…”I feel at peace.” I don’t think I’ve ever been more affected by what a client has said to me after a treatment. So far in my private practice and through Hand to Heart I’ve helped about half a dozen people during their last few days of life. This aspect of my work is not for everyone. But I seem to be able to hold the space for someone while they are making what might be considered the most difficult journey of their lives. The one that completes it.
It’s July of 2021. Five days ago Carol stopped eating. When I came home today from seeing her my partner asked about her session as he often does. I told him that her current state isn’t that she’s in pain, rather, she IS pain. Her body rigid from the process of shutting down. Every movement taking effort. Many of her words indiscernible. Some however are clear. One of her caretakers, my dear friend Cynthia, tells her over & over again where she is, and that her family is waiting for her in heaven. However it’s clear that Carol is having a hard time understanding her. I lean in right to her ear. I tell her that her mother & father are in heaven. That they are on the other side waiting for her along with her brother. That all of her family are there to welcome her. Today Carol doesn’t know who I am. That’s ok. Today I am the messenger who rubs her arms & hands while encouraging her spirit to let go. Cynthia starts crying because she can tell from her expression that Carol has finally heard the words that I have spoken. I pray that her pain is over soon.
In a recent conversation with a dear friend we talked about death & dying. She gave me her perspective from her spiritual journey as a Mormon. She said that in our grief we forget that the people on the other side are celebrating that their loved one has come home to join them. It is this thought that sustains me in this work.