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Massage Today
August 13, 2004

Two Give Meaning to Life

By Judith Kohn, MS, LMT, NCTMB

I was a little apprehensive driving to the hospital because I didn't know where in the Bronx it was, and I was sure it wasn't in a great neighborhood. I had read about its wonderful mission on its Web site and knew it would be a very special place.

I found it with ease, right off the highway and drove into it's parking lot.

What a luxury in the Bronx! A hospital with a parking lot! I had packed a little shopping bag in hopes of giving Sandy a massage. It had some lotion, hand sanitizer, and baby wipes -- just in case she was up to it.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I had seen her a few weeks back when Deb and I had taken her out for a soda. A life and lady once so vibrant and full was suddenly frail and weak. I had called in advance and knew there were no other visitors expected. I was secretly happy that I would have Sandy to myself to talk and "bond," and to let her know that she was special to me.

In my mind, I had rehearsed what I wanted to tell her; it was very important for me to convey my feelings. I had no intention of staying more than an hour or so, but three hours later, I found myself leaving, emotional and fuzzy in my head. I didn't understand the impact of what had transpired between us until days later, for what I experienced was by far one of the most meaningful days of my life.

We started the visit by talking and catching up. From my studies, to work, to my oh-so-horrible dates. She kept telling me it'll happen; I kept telling her I was losing hope. But somehow, looking at her on the bed so pale and sick gave me a little hope -- like she was willing it to me.

We quickly moved to more serious topics of spirits, of dad, of life after death, of the spirit world and its beauty, and, of course, of dying. We both got choked up as I shared my intimate thoughts and told her how happy I was that she had never tried to be my mother but had just been my friend.

We talked about how she had tried with dad because I didn't like him very much; she said she had tried to soften him and she hated how he treated me. She cried, took my hand and told me she loved me. She had never told me that before. I told her I loved her back, and at that moment, I really understood what she had come to mean to me.

We reminisced about my 30th birthday party, talked about my 40th approaching, and how she had just started dating dad. Then we listed all of the boyfriends she had met since that day and laughed. Of course, I can laugh about it now.

Sandy had been my advocate all along when I decided to go to massage therapy school. I had hoped that dad would approve (even though it wasn't medical school), but somehow I know that Sandy would have made him see it if he didn't on his own.

After about an hour she asked for a massage; she was glad that I brought my "tools." I had learned about massage for specific conditions and knew that cancer was contraindicated in some cases; however, Sandy was terminal. There was nothing I or anyone could do except try to make her feel better.

I worked mostly on her hands and arms, but then we both got more comfortable and I was able to do work on each side of her neck and shoulders with her laying on her side. She wanted her feet worked on, so I asked the doctor for permission to work on her soles. When I got the green light, I worked gently on her feet; she was so relaxed and calm. She was very grateful both for the human contact and for the few minutes of escaping the hell of knowing the end was near. To experience a few minutes of joy, sensation and relaxation from the anxious thoughts was my gift to her. What I didn't expect was the gift I received in return: A feeling of tremendous healing and meaning to know that what I was doing, as little as that was, was being transformed to someone so ill and so happy in that moment. The feeling was indescrible.

This feeling inside me was one of fullness, though bittersweet, in its intensity and sadness, yet combined with awe at what doctors who help cure must feel many times throughout their careers. It brought me out of my head with my own problems. Sandy was even concerned about how long I had worked on her feet; she asked if my hands had grown tired. But I didn't even feel the slightest fatigue. The muscles I had built up in massage school made me feel guilty looking at her thin bones through her skin. I made up my mind in those few hours to visit at least once a week to give her a massage while she is able to receive it.

Sandy passed away on October 27, 2003, two months after entering the hospice. My massages were the highlight of her days, and she looked forward to my evening visits after work one or two times a week. We grew closer during those two months as friends and shared a special connection during the massage experience. I am comforted to know that I helped give her some enjoyment in her remaining days on earth. What she taught me I will always carry in my heart.

My heart is full now. I have both assisted and been taught by the dying; it has given meaning to me, and for that lesson I am grateful. Thank you Sandy. I love you and miss you.

Judith Kohn lives in Westchester County, outside of New York City. She is a full-time human resources director and part-time licensed massage therapist. Judith also holds a master's degree in counseling and bachelor's in psychology. She went to massage therapy school after to embrace wellness and do something holistic and different from office work. She believes massage helps to bring meaning and purpose to her life as she brings healing to others; it also helps keep her grounded and centered.


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