Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Parting Gifts

“I feel with all the clients I’ve lost...whether I’ve said goodbye or not, my hands never say goodbye. All of our clients are always in our hands. I am thinking of one client in particular. She died years ago. I can close my eyes and I can feel her—her body, her scars—to this day I can feel her in my hands.”

My smart and eloquent colleague, Marie-Christine Lochot, said this to me during a conversation about our clients who have passed away. We both specialize in Oncology Massage and so have more experience with this than perhaps we'd like, but today her words have returned to me in a slightly different context.

After nearly twenty years of living in Boston I am moving to Austin. This means, of course, that I am closing my ten-year old massage practice and bidding my clients, farewell. This has been bittersweet, to say the least. It has also been very instructive and very, very humbling.

Clients’ initial reaction to my news was the same. In case you aren’t from around here, I’ll tell you: When you tell a New Englander that you’re moving any further south than New York City you can expect your announcement to be met with cartoon-like, eye-popping incredulity. “You’re moving to Texas?!” “I’m moving to Austin.” “Yes, but Austin…well, that’s in Texas. TEXAS!”

So, yeah, pretty much everyone started there. There has, however, been wild diversity in people’s behavior during and after their final massage session. 

The retired plumber pulled me into a sudden bear-hug and sobbed piteously on my shoulder. 

The stern surgeon spent her entire final session fiercely interrogating me about the qualities (including height and hair color) of the colleague to whom I was referring her. 

The couple I’d seen in their home every week for the past 8 years said, indifferently, “Thanks, good luck, goodbye,” and shut the door so quickly that I found myself replying to the brass knocker.

And then yesterday… 
When I returned from putting the pillows away I found my client in the kitchen. She smiled conspiratorially. The chemotherapy has hollowed her cheeks and thinned her face, so her dark eyes seem larger every time I see her. Now they were gleaming. Her thin fingers were caressing a pile of heirloom beans with the same care and tenderness I’d just recently been using over the fragile, prominent bones of her spine and ribs. “I wanted to give you something,” she said, “I collect them. They look dried and dead, but you can plant them and they will sprout and you will have beautiful plants and delicious beans to eat in your new home.” She poured the mottled gems into a plastic baggie and I took it reverently. I grinned at her and swallowed hard. Of course, I thought about time. I thought about the time it takes to drive across the country. I thought about the time it takes for beans to germinate and grow. I thought about the time it takes for an aggressive cancer... I stopped thinking. I steadied my voice. “Thank you.” 

In that moment, cradling her gift in my hands, I realized that I’d received gifts from all of them. For ten years I’ve received a gift each time one of them cried on my table, squirmed under a little too much pressure, closed their eyes and sighed under my touch. My clients’ final gifts, their goodbyes, have beenlike all their giftsas unique as the contours of their muscles and the sensations of their skin. Marie-Christine is right. I will take them all with me. I will treasure them. I will hold each of them in my hands for the rest of my life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time I saddled up the Prius. I’m heading west with a handful of gratitude…and some magic beans.