For massage therapists who care for hospice patients, the work we do is full of ongoing lessons and gifts. I’m continually reminded what a privilege it is to meet and participate in some small way in the lives of our patients — such diverse, interesting, wonderful, ordinary and extraordinary people. There is a bond that develops with physical touch through the understanding that as their massage therapist, I am there to make them feel better. They guide me to the best way to help them and I am there to listen and respond.
I’ve had the honor of working with many patients with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Due to the challenges that befall these patients, massage is a service that often makes good sense. When their muscles stop working as they once did, we can help stretch and massage those muscles to make them feel better for a little while. One such patient gave me delightful gifts of imagination and laughter, and lessons about an unfailing positive attitude and outlook that I will never forget.
I think this really is the most special time of the year, particularly because of the holiday music! Music and singing have been part of my life since the sixth grade, when I became involved in the school choir at the urging of my wonderful music teacher. Singing plays such an important role during the holidays and it has some amazing effects on our wellness.
Holiday music inspires us to raise our voices and creates a fun sense of camaraderie when we gather spontaneously around a piano to belt out “Jingle Bells,” “Over the River and Through the Wood,” or any other favorite carols. Those who routinely sing together in a group, as when part of a chorus, know it creates a tight social bond as every voice works together to create a harmonious sound. (Shout out to the JourneyCare Choir, which includes staff members from throughout our agency!) Even singing in your car to favorite holiday songs on the radio can be uplifting!
Ask people how they feel about the holidays, and you’ll get a variety of reactions. It may be because, even when things are going well, the holidays can present additional demands that increase stress levels and anxiety. If you’ve recently suffered the loss of a loved one, that ordinary holiday stress can quickly turn into a complex, overwhelming, exhausting endurance race.
After a loved one dies, it automatically becomes a year of “firsts.” The first anniversary of every event no longer experienced or celebrated with the person who is now glaringly absent. What was once a reliable or comforting ritual may suddenly feel like an emotional roller coaster of unwelcome change. Grief triggers may be seemingly everywhere: old movies, familiar scents, a favorite song on a playlist. For many, the initial reaction is to avoid and distract. Although it’s a natural response, over time it becomes increasingly ineffective at moving through the grief.
Perhaps when coping with grief during the holidays, instead of connecting with friends, family and others to primarily distract from grief, consider a choice to deliberately “include” the loved one who is no longer present, with intention.
Since joining JourneyCare as a hospice volunteer this past year, I’ve had the privilege of serving as a care companion for two patients so far and I am thoroughly enjoying my role. So, when I saw a request for an “elf” to accompany Santa to bring an early Christmas to a pediatric hospice patient this October, I immediately wanted to help.
Cielo was 17 years old suffering from a glioblastoma with her condition advancing, so she wished for an early Christmas. I was honored to be selected as a helper elf to accompany Santa and bring some Christmas joy to Cielo and her family.