Man on the Beach

In 2006 I ran a small Pilate’s studio in Melbourne Beach. One fine day Norman walked into my place for a work out and to  have a massage session. His daughter had recently helped him move here from California. Norman was ninety years old and she wanted me to help him with his balance through exercise and massage him every week.

He was so handsome and sweet, I could not help but adore him. And for four years I taught him Pilates, increased his balance and strength, massaged him and most of all, enjoyed him.

Normy and his daughter lived in a condominium overlooking the water, on the Harbor. It was filled with boats and we often spotted dolphins, manatees and pretty birds as we strolled along the boardwalk and over to the park. It was a joy to be around Norman and we had fun chats about many different things. Norm and I liked to tease each other about politics because we had some differing opinions. Yes, we often came at things from different points of view, yet we also respected each other’s right to have an opinion. We were different, yes, but there were some things we absolutely agreed upon. For example, neither one of us liked Hawaii…both had spooky experiences there and would not go back even for a free ticket, nope no way!

We had similar spiritual philosophy as well. When I gave up my studio in Melbourne Beach we switched to home visits and would take a walk in the park while having our interesting chats. I enjoy being a gadfly and will sometimes oppose a position just to get a rise out of someone, or just to see what he or she will say. Most people find that annoying, but Normy had fun convincing me and educating me and even found me amusing at times. He was very understated, but humorous. To get a good belly laugh out of him was such a reward!

Now looking back, I don’t know what possessed me to do this, but Norm, who was in his nineties, and I decided to go kayaking in the river near Sebastian inlet. I was nervous at first, having limited experience with any watercraft that involves paddles…but we figured it out and paddled along looking at birds and marine life. It was a beautiful spring day. I was hoping we would attract a manatee or a dolphin as we glided along and sure enough, I suddenly heard tourist squealing about seeing something in the water. We headed over to where she was pointing and was delighted to see manatees up ahead of our kayak. All of a sudden a face popped up, out of the water, took a breath then dove under our kayak.

The water we were in was very shallow, it was amazing to see this huge manatee right in front of us! As she dove down under our craft I prayed we wouldn’t tip over! We saw her face, then her whole back and tail as she dove under us without disturbing our kayak! I still remember Norm’s head with his blue Miami Dolphin hat sitting very still in the front of the boat as this huge mammal was gliding under us. I of course was freaking out and saying Normy are you seeing this? He quietly says “HMMM, yes I did, it was very interesting”.

I had never seen one that closely in my life, it was stupendous. It doesn’t surprise me that the manatee came to say hi to Norman, often, as we took our walks, squirrels and birds would eat right out of his hand. I loved watching him patiently holding a peanut until a squirrel would run up and grab it.

We enjoyed our routine until he had some issues that started his slide into the next phase. That not so fun phase of complications and breakdowns of parts in his body that were no longer repairable. He began a stint of hospitalizations, rehab etc., but finally returned home. I visited him for a massage; it felt poignant to see him. Because of my years of experience working with bodies, I knew things were probably coming to a close.

I memorized every moment of our last 2 visits, trying to imbed in my mind the joy and honor of ever having known him. On what was to be the last time I saw him, I assisted him in undressing to get ready for the Massage. As I pulled his shirt overhead, I realized we were standing in a cloud of sorts. The sun was streaming through the glass door and he appeared to be standing in a snowstorm. I was puzzled for a moment. The saying “ashes to ashes” came to mind. I looked into his fading gaze as he smiled at me, I soaked in that amused smile, and I gently massaged him, helped him dress and upon leaving his caregiver took a photo of us.

I am so grateful she did. It was the last time I saw Norm. I still miss him every day, but I am so glad to have served as his therapist, making his last years a bit more comfortable and fun. I learned so much from him that I can share in my caregiving skills as well as a Massage Therapist. I learn from each of my clients, whether they are people I massage, teach Pilates to or do caregiving for. Sometimes, as we age, people don’t listen to us any more, they figure we are not contributors, I know that is wrong. There is so much more to each of us than just our age, or current station in life.  Norm and I respected each others intellectual gifts, regardless of our respective ages.  Thanks Norm, and thanks to his daughter who had the instinct to bring her Father to my studio that day.
Valentina Boonstra – LMT – Pilates Instructor- Tai Chi Facilitator – Caregiver