Things in Erin’s Brain
In “Welcome to Caregiving…” I talk about, well, caregiving. I talk about being in the thick of it, the feelings, the mental health, the coping (or not), the grace (or having none). I share my experience through “Helpful Hints,” and my “In Hindsight” sections. Because that’s what I know. I also know everyone’s experience is different. Very, very different.
In a previous Hump Day Newsletter I told you the story of #NotMyCat and how little Bumper chose to move into my house when her dad got sick. What I haven’t shared was my experience with her dad.
This past weekend I was prepared to go to his funeral: I was in a dress, there was make up, and Jerry was dressed in slacks and a button up, long sleeved shirt appropriate for church. I yelled out to Jerry, “I just need five more minutes,” and as I was working the flat iron through the last section of my sparkly fairy hair, I got a text, “I hope I caught you in time – the funeral isn’t today.” Huh. I finished straightening my hair and as Jerry hung up his church shirt I sat in my office, not knowing what to do with myself. It’s really weird to get ready for a funeral (both mentally and physically) and then not go. I was sitting with all of these feelings and memories of how Bumper’s dad passed (today let’s refer to him as Mark).
In my ten year massage career I have had three hospice patients under my care. Each passed in a different way. Having connected, laughed, and cried with each one of them (and their families), I deeply grieved each passing. When I found out Mark was in the hospital, I went to see him. I knew he lived alone and I didn’t think he had any local family. I knew from other neighbors that he was gravely ill and plans were being made to move him to hospice.
I knew what to expect.
I had a plan. I would sit with him. To offer compassionate touch I could massage his arms and hands. I could offer reiki energy work if I couldn’t touch him. Have you heard the Woody Allen quote? “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
I wasn’t at all prepared for what I encountered (except for the mini lotion I carried in my purse).
When I entered the hospital room Mark was awake, but clearly distressed. I felt like he didn’t recognize me. I told him who I was. The room was small and there was no chair. I crouched down to meet his eyes. I talked to him softly and told him I was there to offer comfort and to let him know we were thinking of him. He muttered things I couldn’t understand. He was in a diaper which was exposed because he was pulling on his gown and tugging at his IV. Covers had been kicked off (there was no Erin S-fold in his blanket so he could pull it up with ease). He was unshaven. Skin and bones. He was writhing in the bed. Weak, but determined, he was pulling both arms toward the guard rails on the bed. He was trying to escape.
I assured him I wasn’t there to do anything to him. My heart wanted to bring him comfort but I didn’t know how. I went with what I knew. I reached out and gently rested my hand on his forearm. The cancer had made him weak, but he mustered enough strength to ball his opposite hand into a fist.
He began to hit me.
I didn’t immediately withdraw because I didn’t understand what was happening. He brought his fist down on my hand two, three times before I woke from my haze of shock and pull back my hand.
I wasn’t prepared for his anger.
My heart wanted to offer him comfort but I didn’t know how.
“Can I do anything for you?” I asked, possibly desperately, possibly fidgety, possibly with tears in my eyes.
My question was met with more mumbling and wandering eyes. I may have heard, “You can’t help me,” but I can’t be sure.
I didn’t know what to do. I left upset. I had been there for 10 minutes. There was no compassionate massage. There was no peaceful reiki energy work. Nothing I planned. Nothing I expected. I felt useless.
I left the room feeling like he needed more. More what? More drugs? More compassion? More love? I had never witnessed so much discomfort, but under that, so much anger. Yeah, Jerry got mean in the hospital a few times (oof, that dilaudid made him wicked nasty), but this was different. My heart felt Mark’s anger was something unfinished. Unresolved.
I’ll never know.
I did go back. I visited him in hospice. He slept. The nurse told me I could talk to him, but I didn’t want to wake him. I wanted him to enjoy the peace of his slumber. Instead I breathed nearly silent words of peace and told him we’d care for Bumper. He loved her so much.
Because it’s all about love…
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I dropped the term in today’s newsletter, but it’s more than me just being woo-woo. There’s actual science behind it. One of my favorite articles is Dacher Keltner’s “Hands on Research: The Science of Touch“. It’s an older article, published in 2010, but it talks about how little Americans touch one another (then you throw a pandemic into the mix…), the positive effects of touch, and there’s an interesting segment about how we communicate compassion (and other emotions) through touch.
If you’re a massage client of mine, you may have noticed that I encourage your body to relax simply by responding to, or mirroring my energy. “Oh phooey,” you say? You may not even realize it’s happening. The easiest example is for me to talk about arms. Clients love to involuntarily hold up their arms when I’m working on them. Except when your arm muscles are engaged, I can’t do much with them. During those times, when I check in with *myself* I will often notice that I’m also holding tension. Ninety-five percent of the time, when I get centered, ground, and relax my body, your arm turns into spaghetti. You might also catch me exhaling (which might trigger you to relax into an exhale as well). For that last 5% who might not want to let go… I’ll give your arm a gentle little jiggle to get the noodle arm I need.
It all happens in a nano-second (it’s part of that ten years of experience thing).
And it all happens with love.
Because it’s all about love.