Palliative massage is much more than simple pain relief, as we typically know massage therapy. It may involve pain management but more than likely, there is an understanding, deeper compassion and an open heart from the practitioner. We “hold space” for the dying and their families.
To be diagnosed with a terminal illness and to come towards the end of life, is a very personal journey. Anxiety, stress, grief, depression can be part of the process. Being in the moment, grounded and present for the client and to be open to their needs is part of the therapy. A “treatment” might be that we sit beside them, massaging their hands or feet or neck while the patient is bedridden, in the hospice. They could be sitting in a wheelchair where we need to be prepared with creative techniques for massage or touch for their legs or shoulders. It could be that the client is mobile enough to move from their chair at home onto the massage table set up in their living room to receive a full body massage. Often times though, a treatment may not be known until there is a conversation with a family member or caregiver prior to the appointment or until we walk in the room to see how we can best serve the client, depending on what stage they are, in their illness. And, it can change with each visit.
Teaching family members or caregivers different massage or touch techniques for their loved one can be rewarding, giving them the opportunity to spend quality time when we’re not there.
End of life care encompasses comfort care, quality of life and dignity. Guided meditations, pain meditations, visualizations, breathwork, essential oil (aroma) therapy, gentle touching and simply holding, are all part of palliative massage. Being of service this way extends not only to the dying loved one, but also considers grief and bereavement in the families and additionally, can be offered to them and to the caregivers and health care providers.
Our aging population, and more people living with chronic illnesses, will eventually lead to the influx of end of life care in hospices or hospitals, or at home. Having access to holistic palliative massage is a relief and blessing for everyone.