Ivy’s Story –
Comfort Touch with a Hospice Patient

As the supervisor of the massage therapy program for Hospice of Boulder County I have the opportunity to hear about the many experiences of the massage therapists and student interns who offer the gift of touch to hospice patients. I am touched by these stories which emphasize the importance of caring touch for people suffering with chronic or terminal illness. Therapists report the gratitude they receive from patients and their families, and the assurances they feel about the significance of sharing this comforting therapy. There is a special quality of communication that is evoked, and a relationship formed which is beneficial and nourishing to both giver and receiver.

Ivy, a massage therapy student intern, was assigned to give massage to an 85 year-old woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In her initial visits she used the techniques of Comfort Touch she had learned, applying broad, encompassing pressure, gently squeezing and stroking the patient’s arms and legs. The patient expressed her pleasure by saying, "Perfecto. You are the best." The patient relaxed with Ivy’s touch, even falling asleep at the end of her visit. Another time she said, "You are the best of everyone who comes." Ivy said she was moved by the sweet, simple, childlike way in which the old woman spoke.

In subsequent visits Ivy felt their communication deepen, knowing that the patient, though failing physically and mentally, would still remember her as she was touched. Once as Ivy took her arm to massage it, the woman said, "Be simple." Listening to this cue, Ivy responded by taking the patient’s hands and holding them. They looked into each other’s eyes. Ivy recounted that as she relaxed and stayed constant, the woman said, "Thank you. Thank you. You are so pretty."

"That’s what I love about Hospice," Ivy said to me. "I don’t have to try and do anything. It seems it doesn’t matter what I do. Time passes so quickly." The massage therapist gives with the clear intention of offering comfort, not trying to fix or change anything. There is always the opportunity to be flexible, responding to the changing needs of the moment. Ivy is learning the wisdom in those words, "Be simple."

The work of the massage therapist is consistent with the hospice philosophy of providing palliative or comfort care measures. Comfort comes in many forms, and through the service of massage, the patient is able to enjoy the most basic of human pleasures—the soothing power of physical connection.


  © Mary Kathleen Rose 1999