End Well Stories: Touching Life

November 29, 2023


by Addie Hahn, Hospice Massage Therapist

When I tell people what I do for a living, they often respond with sympathy. “That must be so sad!”

My client lay under a pale duvet in her bedroom at the top of a creaking staircase in an old Victorian house. Her smile was both warm and weary as she took my hand and told me where she was hurting: her back and shoulders. I pulled a wooden chair up beside her and began to feel my way along the sides of her spine. My goal as a hospice massage therapist is always the same: to assess how I can bring comfort through touch to the person in front of me in the midst of wherever they find themselves.

Most of us have complicated relationships to our bodies long before we navigate our final illness. There’s nothing simple about what we carry with us in our aching feet and tired shoulders—but touch is among the simplest things we have to offer one another. If we’re lucky, we’re held as babies moments after being born. From our earliest days, we learn that love is rooted in our physical sensations the same way the whole constellation of feelings are, including hope, gratitude and grief.

When I tell people what I do for a living, they often respond with sympathy. “That must be so sad!” they say. What surprises me still, after seven years, is that I don’t find the work overwhelmingly sad or at least exclusively so. Instead, the job feels deeply grounded in real, moment to moment experiences that reveal the full color of what it means to have lived in this world, which is never just one thing.

Each day massaging my clients is its own tiny universe, unknown until it reveals itself to me. In illness, when many of the social conventions of daily life have fallen away, I find a different, more direct form of communication can happen, made all the more impactful because I’m touching people’s physical bodies. Stepping into clients’ living spaces to work with them at an often vulnerable time always feels like a privilege—I get to play a small part in helping to normalize our enduring human need for care and connection.

Addie Hahn is a hospice massage therapist and writer who focuses on health, hospice, and family life. She lives in Oregon with her partner and two sons. You can read more about her at www.addiehahn.com

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