I don’t know if I am an advocate of “therapeutic touch” in the contemporary sense (many studies contradict each other regarding the efficacy). I’m not sure people must be trained in a technique that brings solace; nor do I think it is too mystical or inexplicable. But I am a believer in humanity.
I believe we as humans can share compassion, in a glance, in a touch.
I am a believer in touch and presence as a healing balm to the dying, in a practical sense, since this has been my experience time and again, at the bedside vigil. I have actually seen the turmoil and angst in a dying face suddenly disappear, with the gentle kiss of a spouse, or the simple holding of a dying person’s hand.
Vera is my patient whose hearing aids no longer serve to enhance anything; she cannot hear me, without literally screaming into her ear. Her eyesight was poor already, but perhaps now she can no longer read my lips or even see my expressions, as her tired eyes are glazed over and mostly closed.
She probably has mere hours, at the most a couple of days left, in this womb-like state, to have things done “to her” by her well-meaning caregivers, who need to clean her, turn her, and give her medicine.
But her eyes flutter open briefly; I see a hint of recognition for the hospice nurse who has had those loud conversations many times in the past weeks. (We have had miscommunications and what almost seemed like shouting matches in order to address her needs, with many written notes back and forth.) I think of past confidences I have made, and the long sometimes whispered conversations I have had with other patients, who have told me of their fears and worries as they faced their dying.
This isn’t to be with Vera.
Now, after completing the necessary “nursey” things, as I touch her cheek and hold her hand, I see a calm settle on her face. I don’t know if I can describe this as “therapeutic touch” but I have a great need to comfort her, in her silent world, and to let her know I am wishing her well on her journey.
I try to emanate this as I sit quietly next to her. I feel a slight pressure in her hand that lies in mine…I think she got my message.