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Massage -- a journey into healing

By Maria "Dancing Heart" Hoaglund

Posted June 27, 2009 16:00 PDT

Massage—a Journey into HealingThe healing power of massage is well known in hospice circles. It helps reduce stress, ease pain, and it helps people “refill their cup.” Massage helps caregivers, for example, continue to give and share the best of themselves. As we take good care of ourselves, we are able to better care for others. The power and healing of touch from another human being is enormous. For those who are single and caring for others, it is recommended that they get a massage at least once a month.

I was blessed to meet Carolyn Mateos, a massage therapist and healer while attending a workshop on becoming an expert in one's field of work. Carolyn told me of the healing between herself and her mother at the end of her mother’s life. It is a magnificent piece worth sharing: Massage—a Journey into Healing

“Carolyn, don’t forget your jacket.” That was Mom, always reminding me of things that I, at age forty-one, should be very able to remember to do myself. But for this moment, I did need the reminder. I had become increasingly weary and worn-out beyond exhaustion, due to my daily visits to Mom at the hospital a few weeks prior to this day. Now, at this hospice, it was one of Mom’s final days on “God’s beautiful world,” as she always would say. As feeble as she was, Mom was still sharp enough to notice my jacket draped over the couch, which indeed I would have forgotten.

Healing my MotherLeaving (with jacket in hand), I kissed Mom, stroked her hair and reminded her I loved her. I drove home, thinking how my life’s activities had come to a halt since we learned that a cancer had been thriving in Mom’s stomach and spread to her pancreas and liver. Before this discovery, I was driving my efforts and time into restarting a business in massage, work that I’d enjoyed since my mid-twenties. Moving to Washington set my work back by a decade since my prior education and experience didn’t equal this state’s qualifications of needing to attend one of their approved schools and passing the licensing exam. Strapped for money and time, I took odd jobs along the way, weaving this into the time I’d invested in being at home for my family. As quickly as children grow and time passes, I soon met and welcomed the opportunity to attend school again, pass the exams, and once again share my work with others. Throughout, Mom never understood why I didn’t choose more conventional work, and would say, in her Chinese-flecked, broken English—“Many jobs you can choosing, but you only become a massage terrapeest.”

“Yes, Mom,” I would reply, resigned and hoping that she would simply one day accept my vocation and be happy for me. “I really love this work. It helps people feel….” I stopped as she would take up another topic to discuss. There were always wedges between our understandings of each other. Whether they were due to our age gap, our relationship as mother and daughter, our philosophies and points of view, or our different upbringings in two different cultures, I always felt I had to explain myself to her--only to be cut off and told how I should be according to her standards. Although I was her daughter, I felt completely unknown, unseen by her. She didn’t seem to mind an occasional shoulder or neck rub I would give her, yet she couldn’t comprehend how I could enjoy this as a way to make my living, even after I’d shared with her some of the good I’d seen emerge from this tactile profession: stiff joints gradually becoming more mobile, aches and pains subsiding, if not altogether ending. But by this time, Mom would interject her thoughts with the merits of other vocations related to banks, offices, and hospitals. In all fairness, I couldn’t understand how she could see me content at a desk job. Granted, I’d had my share of some very good experiences working in offices, and had attained great skills for such work; yet my varied interests led me to this arena of holistic health, where the whole person counts in all the ways we know: body, mind and soul. This was a place I could see expansion, improvement—a right livelihood for me.

During Mom’s last weeks of life, she looked forward to her daily massages. I noticed in other hospice rooms that touching a loved one who was dying was a rare event. Families and friends would come to visit, stay for a while to talk, watch TV, sing or sit quietly, usually all done without the presence of touch. Perhaps a hand was held. Maybe a forehead was kissed or patted. I didn’t see much touch, certainly not as much as I was increasingly growing to hope the dying would receive. Just holding Mom’s hand kept her settled; she didn’t need to keep looking around for me to see if I’d gone for the evening. It provided a genuine comfort for me as well, as we diverted from words to a dual solace.

healing with massageOver the next couple of days, Mom became so physically weak, it was a difficult balance to lift her without hurting some part of her now delicate and bedsore body, while applying gentle strokes to soothe her arms, legs, or back, and help with whatever circulation remained. She released a vocal sign of contentment as I worked on her face and scalp—“Remember, behind my ears.” Mom’s belabored breathing did not keep her from making sure her favorite spots were given proper attention. Working on and around her ears, Mom took in a long, deep, slower-than-ever breath, saying, “Now I understand what you do. Even though I am dying, you massage, making me feel light and alive...and ...soooo good.”

My eyes began to heat and a balloon seemed to be expanding itself in my throat. These physical sensations did not match my thoughts: “Why could you not see this sooner? Why couldn’t we have had more connections like this well before this day? Why....” The questions softened as I came back to the present. Those years of explaining, convincing, defending, resisting, had culminated into this moment: our last genuine connection, in a most rare meeting of minds. “Thanks, Mom—I’m glad you know,” was all I could quietly utter.

Mom passed away, in the middle of the week, in the near middle of the month. As I am now also in the middle of my life, I hope that I am doing my share of understanding, or at least accepting, of my children and their decisions as they come into their own. I also hope more people come to understand the unspoken language a caring touch carries with it, and share it with those you love. I will continue to move forward, onward, and upward as I live my time here in “God’s beautiful world.” --Carolyn Mateos, Licensed Massage Practitioner,

Rev. Maria "Dancing Heart" Hoaglund, author of The Last Adventure of LifeRev. Maria "Dancing Heart" Hoaglund, author of The Last Adventure of Life, is an end-of-life and grief coach. Maria was a hospice counselor for many years and is passionate about bringing the subject of death back to life. E-mail:

To your health and wholeness, Dancing heart~~~

If you're interested in more Tools for Healing, see Dancing Heart's website's Link Page.

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