“How was your massage?”
“Good! I am back in my body.”
“Hmm, I didn’t know you were outside your body.”
“Neither did I.”
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So went the exchange between my husband and me last month as I walked into the kitchen after an hour at the healing hands of my massage therapist.
What had been a much overdue massage to work out some back pain turned into a true “aha” moment in my life as wife, mother, and caregiver for my elderly parents.
It all began two months ago with a few too many long drives to visit colleges with our eldest daughter. Fitful nights dreaming about every stress known to a child caring for two aging parents had not helped. Nor had sitting hunched over writing out their ninety Christmas cards. But sleeping on the pleather sofa beside my daughter’s hospital bed, after a pre-Christmas virus had left her kidney’s failing, was probably the straw that broke my proverbial back. Or so I thought.
Katie, my masseuse extraordinaire had a bit different take on things.
As my body softened under her kneading hands, my soul peaked out from where I had tamped it down. A tearful tremble crossed my lips. Upon examination my heart knew what the masseuse had probably deduced as soon as her fingers landed my tense back. There, under the ropey muscles pulled taut across my upper back – my” heart cage” as she called it - was my being, my energy, my mother’s milk. And it was in tatters, bits and pieces of it hanging out and flung who knows where like the Scarecrow’s straw in the Wizard of Oz.
Apparently, while I had been busy playing mommy and caregiver daughter – and a weak version of wife as well – I had strewn myself all over kingdom come. Now lying there in the warm cocoon of her flannel-sheeted massage table she gently prodded me to gather my energy back from all the places I had left it over the past two months. My mind’s eye flooded with images of the places I had been. And all the places I had left a bit of myself:
On the door step of my parent’s new apartment where I steeled myself each time I reached for the door knob to let myself in.
In the office of my mother’s oncologist, sitting beside the once strong, and at times obstinate, woman I called Mom.
In the hallway outside my parent’s door where I often talked in private with various nurses, social workers and Hospice staff.
At the dinner table as I watched my father come to grips with what he perceived as his wife’s “sudden” turn for the worse.
In difficult conversations and emails with my distant siblings and family members.
In my mother’s hand, as I uncurled her stiff and longing fingers in order to extricate my own hand each time I had to leave her side.
In resentful thoughts - and guilty feelings - and “why me?” inquiries - and “what next?” wonderings - that seemed to plague my mind’s every minute.
In the sad, grumbling, and stoic beings of my children as they worked to accommodate the new role of their grandparents in their lives.
While sitting in stiff chair, after stiff chair, at distant college campuses, my hands clasped in prayerful desire as I waited for my eldest daughter to compete in yet another audition for a slot in a theatre school program.
In my marriage, thrown off-kilter by my parents move to our town and the time consuming and emotional work their care involves. And in my guilt-ridden thoughts that these are my parents, not his, that have caused the seas of life to leave us in this state.
The list goes on and on.
Most likely, we as busy parents, each have a list. Some of us, perhaps, are better at keeping our being within our own self. Not sharing it out – passing it around like some plate of cookies to be taken from by greedy hands.
But others of us, like me, forget. We get away from ourselves. In our desire to help, to heal, to hold up others we lend ourselves out all over the place. Then we wonder why we can’t sleep. Why our body aches in protest. Why our heart-cage is in knots.
If you are like me, denuded of your soul then take a few moments now, and each day you feel necessary, to sit quietly and gather your energy back to you. This one small effort to respect your inner self could make all the difference.