I have had the opportunity to attend some funerals for families that have been on our hospice services for a long time. Although asked many times to attend, I typically bow out graciously thinking that my job with them is done. I may have been doing myself a disservice, however.
As a hospice massage therapist, I too need closure. I understand and know boundaries with patients and families. I also know they attach themselves to me and how to gently detach from them when the time comes. This is business.
A personal connection through hospice massage
I touch them. My hospice massage therapist colleagues and I must be invited into their personal space, sacred with some as they are on guard with pain or have emotional issues. We crack the barrier and make a difference. Holding hands, rubbing their backs and gently holding that space quiet. It is priceless.
Each time we are with these families, we capture a piece of their lives and they in turn capture ours. We see photos of loved ones who have passed before them. They love to share the stories. We respect boundaries of course, but after months and in some cases years, they get to know us as well.
They worry, too. “Nancy, do you know that a snow storm is coming?” I just smile and act surprised. They need to tell me to be careful, stepping outside of their own personal concerns for just a little while. I am a pure distraction for an hour and these families love every minute. Some will gather and want to make sure they are present when I arrive. Sometimes they need something else to think about, another voice or smile in the house.
These families have opted to embrace the next phase of their life journey, and we are there. They retreat when they see the dimming light and know their time is getting closer. They prepare. Hands held, eyes pooled with water and filled with gratitude. “Please, can you be here until the end, until my casket closes?” Profound. These are hard words to hear.
Families have come to rely on us as the team, as part of their family. “Please, will you be there at the wake and funeral?” I gently smile and thank them for being in my life. Up until recently, I have avoided the answer. Now, I am rethinking it.
We do remarkable work and need to remind ourselves that it is not just a business with paper, computers, schedules and billing. It is an emotional, compassionate and sincere opportunity to make a difference for people who need help during a very emotional and delicate time. I am most fortunate to be out in the field doing this every day.
We touch their hearts as they touch ours.
It is OK to say goodbye. Closure is needed for all of us. I can’t image doing it any other way.