photographs by william taufic
Lynn Slavin of Darien has a special touch—and plenty of nurses, aides, therapists and other staffers at Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care of Southwestern Connecticut (VNHCSW) attest to that. A volunteer for the agency since 1996, Lynn has not only provided Reiki treatments for hospice patients and their families, but a few times a year, she offers her healing skills to the caregivers in the Stamford office, too.
Reiki, developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui, is a spiritual practice also known as energy medicine, because practitioners are said to transfer healing energy through their palms.
“It’s not a massage. It’s a light touch. The human touch is so important to someone who is ill or in hospice, or for anyone who is weak or old.” And she advocates for caregivers to receive it, too. “The caregiver of the dying patient is going through anticipatory grief, which can be just as real and just as painful as after the patient dies,” she says.
“Anyone here who knows Lynn immediately thinks of comfort,” says Holly Brookstein, director of development. “Many grateful employees have been lucky enough to experience her healing touch.”
The story starts about twenty years ago, when Lynn was a receptionist for a medical group that included oncologists. From her seat at the front desk, she was drawn to the patients.
“I loved the connection with oncology patients and their families, even when we just exchanged a few words as they walked into the elevator,” she says. “And it wasn’t sympathy. It was empathy. Sympathy is almost feeling sorry for somebody. Empathy is connecting with what they’re feeling.” When the medical group later downsized and she lost her job, she started to learn Reiki and to train as a hospice volunteer.
Ever since then Lynn has reached out to help both hospice patients and their families. “I was with one patient when she passed away. After about fifteen minutes, she gently pushed my hands away and nodded. And I gave Reiki to her husband and daughter, too, while they were dealing with the grief. It’s saying, without words, ‘I’m here for you. I understand. I’m giving you comfort.’”
Now, in a touching turn of events, the mother of two and wife to Raymond for forty-nine years has found the spiritual practice especially comforting for herself in recent months. Lynn was diagnosed with throat cancer this past summer and underwent surgery in the fall to have her larynx removed.
“I give myself Reiki all the time, especially in the morning and at night when I go to bed. I place my hands on my neck or throat and feel the energy. It makes you feel like you’re not alone. Someone is supporting you. I’ll be doing it on myself when I’m in the hospital.”
In our society, we’re so afraid to touch. But when you’re distressed, if someone puts his arm around you, he’s saying, ‘You’re not alone.’ The body knows wellness. Hands have been used to heal for centuries and centuries.”
Visit wellnessmattersllc.com and vnhcsw.org for the Nurse & Hospice Care of Southwestern Connecticut