Being an Intimate Professional

Jim is a kind and open hearted being. He is graceful, elegant and very social although the mid stage dementia interferes with his ability to verbalize what he would really like to say many times. He is very expressive with his facial animation and laughs a lot. He is very alert and follows everything around him but can’t really verbally keep up. Jim has inched his way into my heart and it is always a pleasure to see him. He loves touch and really benefits from his massage sessions every two weeks in the assisted living community where I have been going for over seven years. Last week I went to see Jim off my regular schedule.

I guess I could have pulled Jim out of his music circle but all activities are vital to one’s health and well-being at the end of life. Even a few years ago I would have left and come back a different day after all I was there to provide massage. I needed a semi private space where Jim could focus on the touch.

I went upstairs anyway just to see how long the music would be. Maybe I could go have tea and come back if it was not going to be too long.

Jim was in the front row and there was an empty seat next to him. Actually he was the only one in front. All the other residents were at their dining tables. I sat down. Maybe I’d just wait there until the music was over.

Jim had his eyes closed so he didn’t see me. After a couple of minutes when the singer was in between songs I said hello.

Jim opened his eyes and looked very happy and gave me a hello and wide eyes. The music started again and Jim reached out and took my hand. He likes to hold hands so I accommodated. Jim closed his eyes again and started to dance with my hand and then gently swing dance; my arm moving gently to the rhythm. OK, I could do that. It was fun. When the music stopped Jim opened his eyes and laughed. I laughed. There was a spark of life, passion and pleasure. Oops, I felt embarrassed. I was a professional. I couldn’t participate. Someone would think I was a friend or his daughter or even wife. Then Jim reached over and stroked my face. I felt myself move into his touch. Bless his heart. He was really expressing joy and tenderness.

Then the tightness. This really created a pull back from me. I felt myself tighten up all over. Was I being inappropriately intimate? I felt ashamed. I looked around. Then I reached into my bag and found my massage license and clipped it on as if to say, “don’t worry I’m a professional.” Then I was really embarrassed that people would see that I was an inappropriate professional. Wow. The whole confused, cultural image of what a professional is supposed to be plus what was appropriate as a touch professional came rolling forward .

As the music played and Jim wanted to swing dance again in his chair, I struggled to find a place of peace and non- judgement with all the conditions and judgements that were swirling around in my head. I knew what to do.

I stood up, walked to the side of Jim and offered a shoulder massage while he was listening to the music. Yes he agreed and received it; however every once in a while he looked at me with intense curiosity.

So, I performed a professional chair massage for a short while then returned to my seat where I finished listening to the music with Jim.

No right and no wrong; just moving through an intimate profession with people in very intimate situations carrying all our confused teachings about what is and is not appropriate. So hard to be an INTIMATE PROFESSIONAL. So hard to be in the heart, spontaneous and authentic; the core of working with those at the end of life.