My oldest niece said, “We are all going to have a Chinese foot massage at 6 o’clock tonight – my treat!” It would be a novel way to celebrate my sister’s upcoming wedding near San Diego in four days. What made this event so unexpected was the following back story in the autumn of 2012.
That morning I drove my husband to Chicago’s Midway Airport, so he could fly home to Tampa. He had enough of the dreary November weather and overstayed his planned visit by two weeks. Why?
My 91-year-old widowed father fell in his kitchen while watching a Chicago Bears game three days before Halloween and fractured his lower back. After days of intense pain, he underwent a procedure to repair the fracture. Unfortunately, the intolerable pain returned a week later and no painkillers worked. His doctor sat down with my two sisters and me outside his hospital room on Thanksgiving Eve and said solemnly, “Your father failed the swallowing tests.”
After a stunned silence, we knew what we had to do. Since we had agreed earlier that we opposed the use of a feeding tube, we discussed Hospice for our dad. My youngest niece flew in from Oregon early Thanksgiving morning. Our family spent Thanksgiving Day sharing family stories and singing Broadway show tunes in my dad’s hospital room. My dad even requested that we sing, “I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say No,” from Oklahoma. My dad slowly sank into a peaceful sleep, interrupted by intense pain, over the next few days at a respite care facility.
Only three hours after dropping off my husband at Midway, I received a call at 12:30pm as I arrived at the respite care facility. “Mr. Henrikson has passed away,” a kind woman explained. Both sisters, my two nieces, and I gathered at his bedside for our final goodbyes. We went our separate ways as I notified the funeral home, my dad’s lawyer, and The Daily Herald, his long-time employer, of his passing. My sisters and nieces went to Steak ‘n Shake to partake of their Happy Hour (two-for-one milkshakes) in his memory. (Anyone who knew my dad well would realize that it was a touching tribute to his love of ice cream.)
My dad had been a prominent editorial cartoonist for two local newspapers, and their staff writers called to interview me and to make an appointment to see some original cartoons so their articles could be published ASAP. The pressure was on, so I took a much-needed nap.
And now we were having Chinese foot massages at 6 o’clock. What else could happen?
We were relieved as the five of us flopped down into some plush recliners side by side and offered up our tender feet to five massage therapists who spoke only Chinese. I was shocked when the massage therapist did not touch my feet at all. Instead, she delivered karate chop motions to my back in a very rough manner. I wondered if my Florida massage therapist was abnormally gentle.
The karate chops became more and more intense, and I wondered what the heck was happening. Did my massage therapist get the instructions wrong? Why wasn’t she massaging my weary feet? She persisted in hitting my neck, back and shoulders roughly for what seemed like hours. The spa ironically played Christian hymns through the speakers. How coincidental, I thought, since we just lost our dad/grandpa. Somehow, the music was reassuring and counteracted the violent nature of the massage.
Finally, the massage therapist started slowing down her attack on my upper body and actually did some real massaging for the final few minutes. We all got out of our recliners slowly and headed to the exit. My niece, who spent a year studying in China, thanked the women in Chinese and paid them for their services.
As we drove away from the spa, we laughed when we realized that we all had received the same rough massages on our necks, shoulders and backs! What went wrong? I guess we will never know, but the experience sure took our minds off the death of our dad/grandpa. My dad would have been happy to know that his descendants spent their first evening without him together, laughing tears of joy rather than crying tears of sorrow.
Diane Russell joined OLLI in 2014. She has taken over 70 OLLI courses on leadership, radio, life story writing, Tai Chi, healthy aging, literature, science, politics, sociology, and humanities. Diane volunteers as a proofreader for the OLLI catalog and for OLLI Connects.