There's always something you can do
I was raised in a family culture in which the only touch that I can ever recall among any family members was a quick hug hello and goodbye. But as an adult massage therapist, when my father was suffering from pain and fatigue from bladder cancer, it was natural for me to want to provide comfort through touch.
Because my father was unaccustomed to being touched, I approached him gradually in this way. At the beginning, I would sometimes stand behind him when he was sitting at the table, and gently massage his shoulders. It was clear from his response that my touch was comforting and appreciated -- he would close his eyes and his breath would deepen, and he would absolutely not move to get up until I had walked away. So I knew that my touch was welcome.
As time went on, I occasionally sat with him on his bed and massaged his hands, feet, legs. When he was feeling pain and distress, he would sometimes reach for my hand, to ask for comfort. I knew that this touch relationship was a new way for him to relate to people, and I was happy to be able to bring that into his life at a time when his distress was increasing.
At one point, he came to me and said, I need your professional services. He had pulled a hamstring muscle, and figured he could get some help from the resident muscle technician -- me. So this was an opportunity to put him on the massage table, which we hadn't done before. I set up the table in the living room, put on some quiet, gorgeous music (Kava Kava and Ginseng CDs by Harmonix Ensemble), and got him ready for shiatsu. This was the first time in his life that he had ever received a professional bodywork session on a massage table. Knowing that it was strange for him, I worked very gently and slowly in order to help him feel safe and comfortable. I worked only on the back of the body, for about 90 minutes, with gentle pressure on acupressure points, rocking, stretching arms and legs, and doing laying on of hands to help guide him into a place of deep relaxation and peace.
When we finished, he sat up and said to me, that was terrific, really terrific. Make sure you keep doing that work for people!
I was so grateful to have the opportunity to connect with my father in that way. We had never had a close relationship and he didn't know me well, but I felt that in those two hours, we connected with each other in the most essential way. The memory of that shiatsu session is precious to me, and it replaces all the other memories that I have of his suffering during his last months.
The last three days of my father's life were spent in a hospice facility. He was in such excruciating pain that he was medicated to the point of unconsciousness, and he had signed a living will specifying no intravenous fluids or nourishment. So it was clear to us that he would be gone within a few days, and that this was his wish. I sat with him for hours during those last days, understanding that now my job was to help him through his passage. I held his hand to make my presence known, to help quell any fear that he might be feeling, and put my other hand on his back, and told him over and over that wherever he felt my hands, I was opening drain holes for him to release anything that he needed to let go of: all pain, anxiety, everything that was falling away from his life, just let it all drain into my hands. This is the intention that I put into my hands during massage work, and though I had never done this before for someone who was dying, I instinctively knew that I could help him move through his passage in this way.
It is a blessing to know that your hands can be used in many creative waysto aid people's healing , and you don't need to know any sophisticated techniques. It can be as simple as holding gently, staying present, and pouring love and healing intentions into the body. Anyone can do this. Some people look at their friends who are suffering and think, I wish there were something I could do. I look at my friends and think, I'm glad I can do something! There's always something you can do when you know the power of simple loving touch.
Vaya con Dios, Dad.