Although I’d be the first to recommend a massage to anyone under stress or grieving, I’m not always so good at taking my own advice. Besides the expense, I think something in me thinks it’s indulgent – like I’m not worthy of the pleasure and nurturing. But every time I do get a massage, I think, “Why don’t I do this more often?” (particularly when you can get really good rates if you book a massage with students at one of the local schools).
The last time I was scheduled to get a massage was July 18, 2008. It was set for 1:00 pm. At 10:00 am that morning the police called me informing me that my mom had been found dead on the streets of La Mesa. Someone called and cancelled the appointment for me.
It was a Friday. I had received a suicide letter in the mail from her on Monday. I had been sitting on pins and needles for days. Waiting for the shoe to drop. For the phone to ring. People told me no news was good news. But then the news came after all.
I have not had a massage since – until today. I don’t know what came over me yesterday to see if I could get a massage today but miraculously they had an opening. When the receptionist asked me when I’d last been in, I put it together that I had been scheduled on July 18th.
I could feel the tears moving their way up from my gut and into my chest as I parked my car. The body doesn’t lie. As soon as I met the man who was to give me the massage, the tears made their way into my eyes. The body knows when, where and who it is safe with.
I’m learning that grief from a traumatic death is different than a more natural one. Survivors tend to compartmentalize more. With the exception of the first month of the death, during which I openly mourned, I have now put the incident in a box on the shelf. I can talk about my mom’s death like I do the weather – completely cut off from my feelings. I This isn’t my style. It’s the style of trauma.
But then there are times when grief hits like a wave you weren’t expecting. Knocking you down before you had a chance to see it coming. Catching you up in its current. Tossing you about without control.
I’ve been giving my grief weekly to God but sometimes that just isn’t enough. Sometimes God needs to send an intercessor to help on the human plane. He did today. In the massage therapist who gave me more time than the hour I paid for, as I relived that week in July in a way I haven’t since it happened. His pulling the sheet over me reminding me of the sheet draped over my mom’s body. His hands on my hair, neck and face as I cried reminding me of the night a family member crawled into bed with me when I awoke sobbing the most violently I have in my entire life.
I think touch is really important. And we don’t have enough of it in our society. We are so consumed with sex, but what of healing touch? Who touches you if you are single? Or sick or old? Why are animals and children so shameless when it comes to their expressing needs for touch but grown-ups afraid to ask for it?
My mother was kind but not demonstrative. I used to like being sick because then she would look at me with concern and stroke my hair. I remember once in nursery school a staff person snapping at me because I wanted her to keep scratching my back. “That’s enough!” She didn’t understand how much I liked being touched. And that my mom didn’t do a lot of it. My dad did but not my mom. My mom was scared of the authentic contact I so craved. If touching me, she’d pat me stiffly on the back like you would a dog. When hugging mom, her body would tense and when kissing her, she’d extend her cheek for you so that she didn’t smudge her lipstick.
Of course in my twenties, I tried to get my needs for touch met in all the wrong places. Like an abused child, I didn’t know what was love and what was not. There is something to be said for being older and wiser despite still being called kiddo by most around me.
Typically, when someone is in pain, they don’t need to talk. They just need to be held. I remember breaking down in front of a boyfriend once while we were messing around – as college students do. And I’ll never forget his response – or the maturity of it. “Whatever it is, it’s very painful,” he said as he held me. He said nothing more. Nor did I. It was very painful.