All That I Have to Offer

November 28, 2023 Author: Renée

The skin on his bald head is paper thin. Thinner than paper– it looks like it could tear with too quick or strong of a movement of my hands on his head. The short, sparse white hairs on his scalp are softer than they look. I can see his skin, looking like fragile crêpe paper, "crinkling" all over his head.

I stand behind his hospital bed, rubbing the oil in my hands to warm and thin it. Not too much– this isn't to be a dousing, but just enough to allow my hands to glide effortlessly over the thin, fragile scalp. His oxygen tank hisses and shushes rhythmically. There are books on the bookshelves next to his bed– hundreds of books, on all sorts of topics. The room is cozy, arranged specially to make room for friends and loved ones to gather while still allowing space for his hospital bed.

I place my hands above the ridge of his eyebrows and gently draw them towards the back of his head. He relaxes, closes his eyes. I lift my hands, reposition them, and stroke his head again. Over and over, adding a touch more oil as I come to a dry spot– again, not too much; just enough to keep my hands from dragging on his tender, fragile skin.

All that I have to offer are my presence, and my hands.

He turns his head at a knock on the door. A friend steps in. Upon sight of his friend, his hand instantly rises in a welcoming, "come, take my hand" gesture– just as it had when I stepped into the room a few minutes before. The desire for loving, compassionate touch is strong at the end of life. Nothing is as important as human connection. Even as the cares of this life fall away, the need for connection remains– indeed, it grows stronger.

The oxygen tank hisses and shushes. He speaks quietly with his friend as I continue to stroke his head, offering what comfort I can. Hiss, shush; hiss, shush. Stroke after careful, gentle stroke. The skin on his head barely moves as I massage it. His wife comes up behind me and hugs me as I minister to her precious husband. I know that she is dreading what is to come. I dread it with her. All I have to offer is my presence– my presence, and my hands.

It is a privilege, an honor, to be allowed into this sacred space. Dying is not for the weak. Watching your loved one die is not for the weak, either. I marvel at my friend's quiet strength as she struggles with one of his medical devices and conquers it. I rejoice with her in the conquest. The small things are the biggest during this time. We do our best to remain in the moment, finding joy wherever we can. All the while, the rhythmic hissing and shushing of the oxygen tank marks the passage of time like no ordinary clock can do.

Hiss, shush; hiss, shush. It is time for me to go. The busyness of my own life beckons, even through the quiet pensiveness that has wrapped itself around my mind and my heart. I will be back as soon as I am able, oil in hand, to offer what comfort I can, while I can. Soon, much sooner than we want, my work will morph into a different style: ministering to my friend as she grieves. All that I have to offer are my presence, and my hands.

Because touch is a basic human need, and safe touch is a basic human right.

If you have a loved one in palliative or hospice care, or who will be there soon, please reach out to me to discuss how hospice massage can help improve their quality of life, ease anxiety, frustration, and stress along with their aches and pains, and provide much-needed touch. Contact me here.