On 23 August 2004 I received an e.mail: “I am looking for an Alexander Teacher for my mother. She is ninety-six years old. She had some Alexander lessons when she was younger….. Yesterday she remembered the pleasure of her earlier lessons, and wondered if there might be a teacher who could visit her at home …”
When I first visited M in her flat she was sitting on an inflatable cushion on a swivel chair, within immediate reach of all she needed for her daily work. She was still a practicing Psychotherapist.
Despite her obvious physical frailty, M was lively, sharp and had a delightfully dry sense of humor.
Our work began tentatively, as I realized that not only would she remain seated, but also I had access to just one side of her chair. I found myself considering how effective ‘less’ could really be. In fact she only once allowed me to move her chair so that I could get round to the other side, and behind her. After that, she preferred I didn’t move it, as I was unable to replace it in exactly the right position for her afterwards! Yes, it seemed like a challenge. In fact it was the beginning of a most wonderful journey.
I quickly realized that I would have to trust that the little I would be able to do, would be of help. I needn’t have worried because M understood and responded instantly to my slightest Alexander touch and words, and the work was clearly helpful in enabling her to make small, but subtle and helpful adjustments. Sometimes she preferred to work without her hearing aids. A challenge for me but ‘very alright’ and more comfortable for her, and the work seemed to go just as well.
Gradually she trusted me enough to say one day “let’s walk!” Thereafter we walked most sessions, with her three-wheeled walking frame, from her chair out into the corridor and back. Often she would say to me “I am absolutely terrified of falling”. Despite this, she managed to look after herself, both in her necessary daily activities, (getting out of bed, dressing, cooking etc.,) and in applying the principles of the technique during and beyond her lessons, extraordinarily well.
I looked forward to working with M each week. If I ever had doubts about the benefits of the work before I went; I never had them when I left M. Once she said to me: – ”How do you do that? You’re touching my shoulder and I feel it in my heels. You’re on the left side and I feel you on the right as well.”
In June 2005 M fell badly and broke her leg. She was taken into hospital her leg was set and there followed a series of tests, medicines, x-rays, questions and decisions, one of which was the potentially life-saving decision of whether or not to amputate her leg. She decided not. When I visited her in hospital for the first time, I was surprised to experience a deep sense of peace in her body. I concluded it was because she had finally let go of her terror of falling. I had touched her for only a very short time that day and left with a feeling of deep serenity.
From this, I sensed that she had begun a journey of leaving. As I worked with M over the next two months, I learned more and more of the nature of the stage she had entered. It seemed as if the strong will of the physical body to hang on to life and the strong call to go were becoming less and less distinct but also more and more in conflict. M’s physical pain and needs demanded her attention and the call to go was equally urgent.
As I continued to work with her, I sensed there was a veil between the known and the unknown that was becoming increasingly thinner and thinner. As her will to live gradually surrendered, I believe the work enabled her to pass more effortlessly and comfortably through the veil. I never had a sense of ending, but unquestionably one of continuing.
M died on 13th September 2005.
She was a teacher who led me through an unexpected journey, full of challenge, poignancy and humor. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to deepen my understanding of the process of dying and also to realize the valuable role The Alexander Technique can offer at this time.
I wrote in my diary after she died: –
“I felt the power of nothingness – when you let go of everything – then you have everything”.
copyright: Caroline Dale
Thanks, Caroline. This is a lovely piece.