A true story, one of many…

It’s a quiet evening in the hospice and the room is peaceful now my client’s family have left, although usually conversations weave about the room during massage sessions. As death approaches, the small details of life – the cat’s exploits, the flowers in the garden and ‘do you remember Uncle Bill’s friend Sally?’ – all grow in importance. Buttonight she just murmurs as she fades in and out of sleep, surfing on waves of morphine and soothing massage, while I perform adapted Indian head massage and then treat her legs – firmly enough to relieve the cramp, but gently enough not to cause her pain. 

Last night she laughed weakly as she followed the fantastical thread of the children’s story I was telling – despite catching only three in four words – while I tried to stroke away her pain. I’m also a children’s author and storyteller so I tell stories sometimes, or give clients my books to pass on to their children – or grandchildren – as it’s important to have a link between this life ending and the young life that carries on. It’s harder when there is no link, or relatives. I once sat with a Scandinavian lady as she faded into the next world, muttering unknown words as she drifted away, all alone. I held her hand and sang her lullabies, for I didn’t know what else to do.

My client is on her side now as I stroke her back, which eased her aching last night and she was able to sleep for nine, solid, pain-free hours. Her sister says she’s never complained, not once since the first day of the cancer. I say goodbye, telling her I’m going abroad. How long, she wants to know, gazing at me as I say ‘one week’, and we can both see the other is calculating, trying to decide if she will be here when I return. She is 39.