Reflections on a Quiet But Meaningful Relationship

By Douglas Nelson
[Table Lessons]

“Would anyone else like to say something?” asked my client’s daughter as she looked over the gathering.
I felt my wife’s right elbow nudging my side gently, but with firm conviction. Looking into my wife’s eyes, she glanced in the direction of the dais. I knew I should rise to speak, but I couldn’t quite make my legs initiate the action. Luckily, someone else rose from their seat to make their way to the podium, as I was completely lost in thought.
I have been to quite a few visitations and memorial services for clients where I have heard statements like, “Oh yes, you are the therapist Dad saw for many years. He talked about how much he enjoyed his appointments with you. Thank you for coming.”
In these instances, I have been struck by the depth of the connection I had with the person at the center of the memorial service. Now, looking around the room, I could not help but wonder if anyone knew, even his children, about all the very personal feelings this client had shared with me over the years. In the sacred space of the treatment room, created by the power of touch and complete acceptance, deep emotions are communicated.
I wondered if the stories of his traumatic experiences in war were ever fully shared with his children. Given the depth of that trauma and the years it took for him to reveal it to me, I somehow doubt he had.
Like any family, he and his children had a sometimes-difficult relationship. Despite that, did they really know how proud he was of them and how deeply he loved them? Did they know all the ways this person had served his community and befriended countless individuals who needed his help? Had they also experienced the tenderness and caring that seemed to unfold in his later years?
Sitting by myself, I kept thinking about all the connected conversations we had over the years and how much I benefited from what I learned from him. He was a fountain of life wisdom, and I was lucky enough to be in a context where that knowledge could be fully communicated. I will be forever grateful for our relationship.
Feeling that nudge again, I was jolted back to the present reality. “Anyone else?” I heard his daughter ask. I rose and walked slowly to the dais while formulating my thoughts.
Each speaker before me had shared how my client’s guidance and wisdom had stewarded them through very difficult times. When they first met him, many were bright young people who were feeling lost at that point in their lives. My client had taken these lost souls in and spent countless hours guiding and counseling them. They spoke of philosophical conversations, quoting some of the philosophers and spiritual leaders who have tremendously influenced my life as well. My client had even housed many of these people when their parents had given up in frustration. Now, the room was filled with the accomplished beneficiaries of his wisdom and guidance. I was stunned at what I heard.
When I first met my client, as I shared with the group, I too was passionate, a bit lost, and rather uneducated. But, unlike everyone else in the room, his guidance to me was almost completely nonverbal, as it happened in the context of the treatment room. I had felt him to be a steadying influence in my life, but for a moment, I almost felt jealous of their verbal conversations with him about philosophers, life understanding, and how to be in the world.
At the service, I came to realize he had guided me as well, just not though the spoken word. While he saw me for many years on a regular basis, each session contained a question here, a comment there, then a shared and powerful silence. While others had gained his wisdom through words, our connection and communication were almost completely through the power of touch. Given the comments from his family after the service, it was clear that he treasured our time together as much as I did.
Entering this profession so many years ago, attending memorial services for clients was never something I imagined myself doing. My early thoughts were about skill acquisition, building a clientele, and the process of running a business. The business grew over the years, and while I am somewhat embarrassed to admit this, I did not plan for the depth of relationships that would be created along the way. What is obvious to me now was lost on me then. This profession of massage therapy is deeply personal and rooted in connected relationships that have the power to change the lives of both therapists and clients alike.

Douglas Nelson is the founder and principal instructor for Precision Neuromuscular Therapy Seminars, president of the 16-therapist clinic BodyWork Associates in Champaign, Illinois, and president of the Massage Therapy Foundation. His clinic, seminars, and research endeavors explore the science behind this work. Visit www.nmtmidwest.com, or email him at doug@nmtmidwest.com.