I came equipped for my evening shift in the Palliative Care unit on Friday with a jar of foot balm! I wanted to offer foot and hand massage as an opener, this time. Over the previous sessions there I’d felt some patients, who were alone, actually weren’t pining for company. I began to feel intrusive even asking if they’d like me to visit. So I decided on a different tack.
One of the patients, an elderly woman with a tiny frame but a lively pair of eyes, who had declined a visit last rime, really perked up when I asked if she’d like a foot massage. I suggested, as I massaged her feet, that she might feel so relaxed that, by and by, she drifted into sleep, and that if that happened that was perfectly okay. Though she did relax and clearly enjoy it, she was still awake to happily accept my suggestion that I do her hands next.
She lay there, eyes closed, her deeply veined hands held out to me, as I took them, one after the other, and gently worked on them. There was very little talk, and I enjoyed the silence between us, which felt like an easy, comfortable silence: the kind one falls into with someone with whom one is very familiar.
I felt a sense, too, of intimacy between us. The very gesture of her placing her hands in that of a stranger touched me: it seemed to indicate trust and a willingness to be vulnerable; and the fact that she was allowing me to be with her, and to give my own energy and time to her in such a deeply personal way, was lovely.
The second woman also enjoyed her massage, though she was sitting upright and was very chatty, so it was a totally different experience than with the first woman. Still, I enjoyed it, the sense of two humans sitting together, on a cold and dark winter evening….people who barely knew each other but who were consciously allowing a connection to grow.
At the ‘handover’ a nurse had informed me that a third woman, with whom I had done a guided meditation with on two previous occasions, was now close to death. The door to her room was closed, except for when relatives slipped in or out. My heart went out to her. I wanted to know where she was at; to connect with her, to remind her of the meditative space we’d visited together. Of course it would have been entirely inappropriate for me to go in; I could only be with her, silently, alone, in my own way. I was glad that, at least, we’d been able to spend two evenings travelling to the space inside….
I see that this is probably the way it will be in the Palliative Care unit: if a patient is not having things done to her by a nurse, not eating a meal or having visitors, she/he may or may not wish for a stranger’s company. If she does, she might be open to meditating, or, might not be. And if we are able to meditate together, or perhaps have a conversation about dying, when she is passing through her last minutes, quite rightly, family and friends will always take precedence over me.
Seems intelligence not to focus on what I cannot do, given this particular context, but, rather, to see how creatively I can use the opportunities that do present themselves.