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Articles & Essays

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Honoring the Final Chapter

Portrait of JaneBy Jane Hopkins

I’ve been called an “old soul” more than once, so it’s no surprise that I attract an older clientele. The majority of my clients are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, and over the course of my 17 years as a massage therapist, I’ve even seen a few clients in their 90s (one of whom had never had a massage before). Most of my clients grew up during a time when massage was seen as superfluous, decadent, or just plain weird, rather than therapeutic. The idea of “therapeutic touch” or “self-care” were not terms used in their generation.

Clients often come to me through a referral from a health-care provider or a family member that suggests massage as a way to complement their health-care team. Most feel benefits after their first session, as they experience muscle and energy shifts that manual therapy often brings throughout the body. One of the things I love most about my profession is that marketing massage therapy has never really been a thing for me. There’s nothing flashy or tricky about it; if people value your services, if you can help them feel better, they return. You build your practice by attracting clients that need/want what you offer.

Clasped handsMany of my clients have joint replacements, many suffer from arthritis, stenosis, or a combination of degenerative diseases or pathologies that accompanies the aging process. I have several clients that are battling cancer or are survivors. Although we know that cancer increases with age, the diagnosis at any age is traumatic and scary. It is often said that “aging is a privilege,” yet with age, the number (and perhaps severity) of micro and macro traumas increases as well—car accidents; falls on skis, horses and ice; broken bones; surgeries…not to mention the demands (emotional and physical) of careers and family life. I have seen countless women with old and new muscle dysfunctions and deconditioning from childbirth (insert plug for post-natal core strengthening for all women, as well as evaluations for scar tissue and/or muscle adhesions resulting from pregnancy and birth). Traumas and injuries add up over time, and the body holds all of those stories, for better or for worse.

Although there is often pain and discomfort that ebbs and flows in advanced age, I am continually impressed with all that my septua- and octogenarian clients accomplish. I have clients in their late 70s that play tennis and golf multiple days a week, others that hike 14ers, and clients in their 80s that swim laps before I’m awake and still camp in a tent and sleep on the ground! Most all have lost parents, some have lost spouses, and tragically a few have survived the loss of a child. I’ve witnessed their transitions to retirement, some lasting only a few months before they get bored and return to work, while others can’t wait to turn in their resignations. Many have shared pictures of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren—such a sweet privilege I hope my future holds. The collective years of experience and survival is humbling, inspiring, and always educational. I am forever grateful when others share their life experiences that have shaped them, whether they are painful, joyful, or a mixture of emotions. I observe the lessons learned and the ways in which people move forward and occasionally get stuck. We can always use tools to sharpen and hone our life skills.

The gratitude my clients express for their sessions is beyond my expectations. Their kind words and acts of appreciation, as well as their continued business, are what keep my practice and my heart full. During their “final chapter” of life, I feel honored they continue to visit my table and entrust me to give their bodies rest, healing, and rejuvenation. They are my living heroes, survivors, and beautiful examples of lives well lived. They are reminders for me to always live with humility, grace, and introspection at the forefront of aging. As I approach 50, I feel fortunate to observe how others live in ways that matter, and to learn from them. I’m paying attention more than ever to generations before me and feel lucky to have so many of them as clients.