Cold Comfort. Helping Refugees: Part 6

I missed several appointments to meet my refugee and give her massage therapy. I didn’t show up, because my father died while I was on vacation. I had to cancel my flight home and extend my visit to America.

I called M’s daughter the day after I finally got back to Germany. We set up another appointment. Just like always: Monday afternoon. I got there and took off my shoes.  M’s husband offered me a glass of strong Turkish tea. “No sugar,” I requested. (It’s usually served with enough sugar to send me into diabetic shock.)

M was sitting up in bed with a smile. I sat on the edge and took her hand. “Please tell your mother how sorry I am that she didn’t know where I was for the last three weeks.” (I’d sent a SMS from the States, but they hadn’t read it.) Her daughter dutifully translated my German words. I looked into M’s eyes and talked slowly, willing her to understand.

I tried for a session that would make up for the long summer pause in her therapy. I began with foot reflexology and moved on to treat her knee and hip joints, her shoulders and neck, her hands. When I was done, M surprised me by taking my hands back in hers and scrutinizing my face. She spoke for a long time.

The daughter translated for her. “My mother says to tell you, don’t be sad that your father died. Everyone’s going to die sometime. And you and I, we’ll have to die too someday.” M kept holding my hands and I felt tears come. We kissed one another on the cheeks.

The tears were for my father; they were for myself and my loss; and they were because that day was the first time that M comforted me rather than the other way around. Cold comfort, to be sure…. She gave to me out of her terrrified flight, her pain, the violence and death she’d seen in her home country. Her words were framed with the bitter truth of the life  she’s known. But she presented me with that truth, because she wanted to ease my ache.

And it helped.

 

 

Breath

Her chair is in our living room. I curl up in it cross-legged; the air around it is empty.

I wash the leather cushion and back with a damp cloth. It swivels under my touch, then stills.

Her limbs did too, shortly before she died. I gave her the ritual of a final loving massage. It was gentle touch, my palm on her forehead, my hand over her heart.

Her ragged breathing calmed. I found myself matching her breaths. You can go, it’s okay. I thought those words, and said them aloud.

Her breaths slowed. In, out. In. Out. In….. out. In.

And just like that, she was gone.

Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. A hole in the everyday has punched through the solar plexus of life’s waistcoat. I discover I can’t fill the resulting void.

My mother-in-law and I breathed together, the same air, for 24 years. I’m not able to breathe back out, because Mama’s no longer here to do it with me.