A Dying Man’s Conversation

Including the greatest compliment

I have a lot of clients who “touch” me. There was one in particular who flattered me like no one ever has. He was tall and sturdy, like a great oak tree. And with his deep voice, he reminded me of Treebeard from The Lord of the Rings.

Mr. Oak and I became fast friends. He passionately shared his stories with me – music, adventure, and his travels through Europe.

He had a strong desire to show me all of the most beautiful places in the world.  He loved holding my hand. Yeah, he was probably a “dirty old man” hitting on me since I usually wear my tennis skirt in the summer to give massages, but I loved his stories and his taste in music, so I didn’t care.

I wanted your personality surrounding me.

We first met on the anniversary of his being alive…He called it his second birthday. It was the anniversary of his being shot in Vietnam.

That was the first time he died. He was selflessly saving soldiers, unaware that he himself was bleeding to death. He was awarded a purple heart, bronze star and a silver star for gallantry in action.

I have touched that scar where the medics were going to amputate his leg at the hip.

Every year for a few years, he would come to see me to celebrate his birthday/anniversary. We listened to classical music, discussed faraway places, tastes of other cultures, and other sensory delights that exist throughout the lands that each of us have journeyed to.

One year, he called me requesting a massage and to tell me of his cancer and that he was dying.

I wrote down our conversations we had during his massages – I asked him some of the most candid questions. I just kept the talks “as is.”

We met many times during his treatment and had rather candid discussions about life, death, love, family, music, art, Paris. These stories will be told elsewhere.


My morning with Mister Porter… Just notes..  I was massaging during this entire conversation. I cried more than a few times…

I hit a sore spot medial to the right scapula working anteriorly. His arm gave a spasm.

Me: “Do you shake a lot now?”

Him: “Oh did I shake? Yes, it happens from time to time. My wife gets mad at me. She thinks I can control it.”

Me: “She’s just scared.”

Him: “I know.”

Me: “Are you scared?”

Him: “No, I’m not scared. I’m not looking forward to more pain. I don’t know what to expect or what it will feel like, but I’m not scared.”


Him: “I want to do stuff still, like go to a ball game.”

Me: “Are you able to do that, go to a game? Or are you stuck here?”

Him: “I can go. My daughter-in-law found me a wheelchair and a walker, but I think a wheelchair would be better for going to a game.”

Me: “Yeah, and look at all the perks: up-close parking and your own seat!”

He laughed, “Yep. I need to find a better driver for my wheelchair. My wife is terrible at pushing me.”

Me: “Does she crash into things?”

Him: “Yes, she has no concept of where my feet are.”

Me: “Ha! Clears the roads for everyone behind you though.”

He laughed.


Him: “My daughter-in-law gave us these white bracelets that say ‘cancer sucks’ – I just took mine off for the massage. My wife doesn’t like to wear hers. She thinks it’s inappropriate. I told her that cancer does suck and who cares what it looks like.”

Me: “It’s freeing, isn’t it?”

Him: “What is?”

Me: “Truly not giving a shit what people think.”

Him: “It sure is. I never thought about it like that.”


Me: “Have you picked a date?”

Him: “A date?”

Me: “Yeah, your time to go. Did you pick a really cool date? Because it will be remembered forever.”

Him: “No, I haven’t. I’m not ready to go yet.”

Me: “Are you going to? Pick a date ”

Him: “That’s a good idea. I didn’t think about that. I’ll consider it.”

Him: “Thank you for talking about this. My wife can’t talk about it.”

Me: “My pleasure. I love talking to you.”


Him: “Hospice has been great. They bring me anything I need, meds, equipment…even a hospital bed, although I haven’t pulled the trigger in that.”

Me: “There’s nothing like your own bed.”

Him: “They did give me a table for the bedside, so everything is within reach. …Did I tell you my sister has cancer too?”

Me: “No, I didn’t know that. How is your mom handling all of this?”

Him: “My sister had to have a double mastectomy. Mom is 97 now, and that was really hard for her.”

Me: “Being a mom, I can tell you that at any age, no mom wants to outlive her kids.”

Him: “I can tell you this: life really is short. That’s not bullshit. You have to REALLY LIVE!”

Me: “Amen to that!”

I high-fived him.


Him: “My feet are always cold.”

Me: “This one isn’t. It’s nice and warm.”

Him: “Oh. It feels cold as you’re rubbing it.”

Me: “Is that because my hands are hot?”

Him: “I don’t know. They’re almost numb.”

Me: “Oh, maybe that’s the morphine. I’ve never taken morphine. I don’t know what it feels like.”

Him: “It’s a trip!!”

Me: “Ooo look at all the pretty colors! Ha ha”

He laughed “I wish it was that kind of trip.”

Me: “Maybe hospice can bring you a disco ball, and you can have all the pretty colors all the time.”

He laughed really hard and coughed.


The pain was really deep… A lot of trigger points through trapezius and into serratus and intercostals.

I asked him where he would like to visit before he dies.

Him: “You know I can’t go anywhere.”

Me: “I know. But I can. I’ll take you in my heart.”

He said: “I would fly into Amsterdam and stay there for a day or two. Then go to Brussels. My favorite restaurant is there: Vincent’s.”

Me: “What kind of food do they have?”

Him: “MEAT!! Ha ha! The best pepper steak. They first brought out a bucket of mussels. Of course I was young enough to put away the bucket myself. … And when you first get there, you leave your name and go across the street for a drink and wait for your table to be ready. And then I had to use the restroom. That was our first experience with a unisex bathroom….

…and then Belgium where the chocolate is divine….”

Me: “What is the best mode if transportation to all of these places? Train? Car?”

Him: “Oh train. We’ve rented a car, but even in much better health, I would travel by train…

…and Paris… Visit the museums. You have to make friends with the desk clerks. They will share with you the very best restaurants. One was a college student, and she told us where she and her boyfriend lives to go. So my wife and I went. It was inexpensive too – she was a college student… And sure enough, there she was with her boyfriend. It’s nice that they’ll tell you where they honestly go….

…and then take the channel into London because we have friends in London, and into Scotland. But you might like to go Florence next. There is more art in Florence.”


He complained of more pain in his shoulders from coughing so much.

Me: “I should have started out deeper. Sorry. I didn’t know what you could handle or what to expect.”

Him: “Sorry. I didn’t know either. It’s in my bones, and I didn’t know…”

Me: “I know.. A fracture would not be fun. But I want to make sure I’m helping you. I can come back every week, if that is helpful.”

Him: “I’ll know in a couple of days.”

Me: “Yes, I know. And let’s face it, I’m here for more than trigger points.”

Him: “You’re right. I wanted your personality surrounding me.”


I asked him what he thought it would feel like – meaning passing on.

He chuckled:  “I don’t know, but I’ll find you afterwards and let you know.”

Today, I wrote about something Mr. Oak said to me during one of our last visits, and that was when he told me that he requested my presence not just to ease his pain, but to have my personality surround him – That is the greatest compliment I have ever known and will probably ever hear in this lifetime.


Upon that remembrance, I realized the date and noted that I hadn’t heard about his status. I looked in the obituaries and discovered that he died in April. Upon reading that news, and even though I knew he was near the end of this current life for him, I cried.


At that point, my next client was to arrive at any minute. I choked back sobs and freshened up. I put on my peppiest smile and fetched her.


As I began, the tears were running down my face. I looked at my goodies on the shelves around my room, and I thought, “I have to tell Mr. KC.”

Even though Mr. KC and Mr. Oak never met, they did hear stories about each other. These two men have inspired great passion in my life and have secured long-term residence in my heart.


I listened to the music, tears burning my face, as my client’s head rested in my hands.

Just then, quite suddenly, a small rectangular piece of paper drifted from the shelf where it had been sitting since January (so at least 6 months) to the floor – for no reason. There was no breeze or movement in the room.

I had placed that little slip of paper selectively with a jar containing sand and a sand dollar from a faraway island in the Philippines, a most treasured gift representing freedom, friendship, and adventure.


In that instant, the tears stopped. Peace and warmth filled the room. I knew what was written on that paper…My inspired spirits had spoken to me.


Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. Hummingbirds open our eyes to the wonder of the world and inspire us to open our hearts to loved ones and friends. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and to savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.


After my client left, I replaced the little note back with the jar, and it didn’t move again for the rest of the day, not a flitter or flutter.


He said he would find me afterwards…I guess he did! It must not have been too bad after all.


When I finished working and arrived at home, I signed Mr. Oak’s guest book, and this is what I said:


Thank you for sharing wisps of your spirit with me. I feel incredibly blessed and honored that you shared the stories of your life’s greatest adventures with me… And the journey not yet taken, as I promised you, will be done with you in my heart. I sincerely hope that this journey you are now on is the greatest. I miss our talks, my great friend, Mr. Oak. I play Beethoven’s 9th in your honor.



One thought on “A Dying Man’s Conversation

  1. Pingback: The Things I Wear | Goddess of Healing

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