Learning Until the End: Feldenkrais for the Dying

They’d unplugged his machines days ago. They’d brought him from the hospital to the hospice house. Now they were just doing everything to make him comfortable as he went.

I arrived two days later and he was still hanging on. We all cried. We said goodbyes. He was so clearly at death’s door. And there he remained for three more days. He couldn’t communicate in any way. His limbs were stiff and contracted. The overall picture gave me the sense of someone bracing for impact. It was time for him to die. He was suffering as he fought it and I started to wonder if there was something I could do to ease the process for him. I wondered if the Feldenkrais Method could teach someone an easier way to die.

He was in a hospital bed. He only moved when moved by the staff. There was a sort of social prohibition, both in that my family isn’t terribly tactile and in the public scene of a death bed. But I could work with his hands and his arms a little bit and when I had some time by his side, I did just that.

There wasn’t much mobility but as I worked with what was available, I could feel a softening. His fingers became a little more pliant, the wrist turned a little more. I found I could move his arm such that he could touch his chest with his fingers. I tried to work with his feet as well but I had the sense that it made him uncomfortable, that somehow having his feet touched was not reassuring. So I stuck with his hands, his fingers, his wrists and his arms.

I was thinking, as I rotated his forearm, “You don’t have to hold on to this.” Or with his shoulder, ‘Or this.” With his fingers, “This doesn’t have to be so hard.” I was hoping to make everything easier, including his exit from his life. At the point past speaking, past hearing, past words and even gestures, this was the best communication I had.

Later that night, he slipped quietly away, without any of the warning signs, or fight, that might have indicated that it was time to go. Because he couldn’t communicate, I have no idea what his experience of any of it was. Maybe doing a little easy Functional Integration (FI) helped him let go. Maybe it didn’t. But I can imagine how it might. And it certainly helped me to have an alternate means of listening to and talking with him. When all else is gone, touch is all there is, really.

I like to imagine that the little bit of FI helped him let go, probably because I imagine that if I were on my deathbed in that condition, I could use a little help learning the easiest way to die. Just as I can use help learning the easiest way to live. From beginning to end. Learning. Learning.


by Emily Davis, Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner

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