The corpses that I buried alive
underneath my ribcage
are trying to break free.
~ Mohammed Abrar Ahmed
It’s not that I didn’t think about Parkinson’s disease when I was massaging my husband’s wasting muscles and aching limbs.
I did. I thought about the jerky cog wheeling in his ankles and wrists. I thought about the stiffness in his joints and concave chest. And I always tried to give him movement and stretching as part of the massage.
He had been diagnosed quite young—in his 50s—and, wanting to avoid taking pharmaceuticals for as long as possible, embarked on a program that included dietary supplements and daily massage, which my recent massage training had made possible.
He noticed right away that the massage helped him, and it seemed true enough even to me. For the first few weeks, he couldn’t raise his arms over his head and then he could, he couldn’t bend his ankles or wrists and then he could, and the constant pain between his shoulders abated and he slept better.
And then there was the day when something else entirely began to happen.
It was right after I had finished a massage. He told me that he felt disoriented and a little dizzy. I put the face cradle into the table, told him to turn face down into it and began rocking and pushing on his back in the way he’d always found comforting. Soon, his shoulders began to heave under my hands, and as I continued rocking and pushing, he broke into wave after wave of choked, anguished sobs.
“Oh, no. Oh, no,” he called out, the broken words tearing from his throat.
He simply could no longer contain the pent-up tension, pain and loss that he knew his diagnosis would bring him. Even as I kept my hands gently to their task, I knew there was a kind of dying going on before my eyes as he grieved the death of the man he had been while simultaneously shunning the thought of the man he was to become.
In my particular massage training, I had been taught to hold the space if a person began externalizing their feelings; to not interfere and to let the feelings flow. Certainly, this man, who had recently received a life sentence of imprisonment in an ever more paralyzed body, had feelings to externalize.
I kept my place at the massage table, staying with the rhythmic motions of pushing and rocking as he emptied his heart out.
It was a full hour before he spent himself and I knew that my life with him would be changed forever by the brutal and wild truth of those minutes, as if the aliveness of his pain would make everything else less real by comparison.
I also knew he would feel better.
And he did. Without the need for prescription drugs.
The physical touch and regular massaging of his stiff and sore muscles loosened and soothed them to the extent that he could deal with the pain that was left without the need for pain medication.
As for the anguished tears that he cried out on my massage table, I was convinced that holding them in did as much to keep him from moving his arms over his head and from bending his ankles and wrists as did Parkinson’s itself. His mourning also allowed him to move through his grief and loss and eliminated the need for anti-depressants.
When the storm had finally passed that first day of crying, he sat up on the table and told me he felt as if he’d been on a psychedelic trip and that new windows were available to him through which he could look.
“Once I was blind, but now I see,” he quoted softly, his head heavy on his shoulders, his words heavy on his tongue.
“You know, just like the next guy,” he went on, “I want to live forever. But my body won’t allow it. It’s like I’m already beginning to shed it—already beginning to give it to Parkinson’s.” He turned his face toward me. “But I know I’m immortal in my soul.”
I stood beside him, my hand on one of his legs.
As it turned out, my husband’s tears in that massage broke a dam full of tears and for six months afterwards he cried.
“Why am I crying again?” he would say, and I would say, “Because,” or “Let the tears come,” or “You’re unloading.”
I was never frightened by his crying and never thought it was something he shouldn’t be doing. It all seemed perfectly natural and somehow right to me, and while he himself would wonder aloud if a “man” should be crying so much, he also said that he realized he more or less had no choice but to surrender himself to the process or die “sooner rather than later” with it all buried in him.
The daily massages continued. The crying continued.
And then, one day it stopped, and when it stopped, he never cried in the same way again.
Ultimately, I thought of those early months of his grieving as a sort of baptism. He had been submerged in the water of his tears and emerged from them “reborn” as a calmer, more peaceful man, a man who accepted that while his body would give way entirely to Parkinson’s, his spirit would not.
I had started studying massage before my husband was diagnosed. I had always thought of myself as being good with my hands and felt it would be a way for me to express myself through them. I also believed deeply in the healing power of massage.
It didn’t occur to me then that I would be using massage not only to relieve my husband of the physical pain of his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, but also to relieve him of the pain of his unshed tears, and to bear witness to his rebirth as he struggled to find the way to his new self.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Evan Yerburgh