How a Coroner Inspired My Career as a Massage Therapist

One of my early inspirations to become a massage therapist was, strangely, a coroner.

Carl McVey was the coroner of White County and my hometown of Carmi for over 30 years. He held the position up until he was 80, and passed away a few months after he retired.

He came and gave a talk to my high school journalism class. He told us the most difficult part of his job was often being the one who knocked on someone’s door and breaking the news a loved one had unexpectedly passed away. One of my classmates asked, “What can you possibly say to comfort someone in that situation?"

“I’ve always believed that when all words fail,” he said, "there is incredible power in appropriate, caring touch.” He explained that could be a hug, or simply a hand on a shoulder, or the offer to hold someone’s hand.

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That stuck with me through the years. My own siblings and I are not necessarily affectionate or good with speaking with one another. But when our dad passed away a few years later, and our mom six years after that, it was frequent hugs that became our way of communicating and relieving each other’s sadness. Before the difficult public events - breakfasts, the wakes, the funerals - we would gravitate to each other for a group hug, a way to fortify each other before facing everyone else. During the rehearsal for my first wedding, just two months after Dad passed away, there was one moment when the weight that he wasn’t there hit us all at once, and we knew it without even looking at one another. A few minutes later, my sisters and my mom were crying in a group hug together in the lobby of the church.

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Another powerful moment during that time: The day after my dad passed, a long-time neighbor - someone closer to my own age, and someone who had lost his own wife, a classmate of mine, just a couple of years before - came over to pay his respects. When he came to face to face with my mom in our front yard, there was a moment of silence between them and he simply said, “I don’t have the words.” My mom said, “There are no words,” and they hugged for a several moments. 

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I’m reflecting more on my dad and mom’s passing of late. They both passed away in March, sixteen and ten years ago, respectively. I enrolled in massage therapy school six months after my mom’s passing. The reasoning I gave myself and others then is that I wanted to get out of the Monday-Friday office trap, and to do something in general that made a bigger difference in people’s lives than working as a marketing assistant at a commercial real estate company to pay the bills while I did theater and improv on nights and weekends. I knew little about massage therapy, and had not even received a professional massage before. Reflecting on this recently, it occurred to me that without necessarily consciously articulating it even in my own mind, I was being drawn to a field where I might be able to provide the caring touch that had profoundly helped my family and me get through the tough times of the last few years.

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My training and my massage work does tend to focus more on the clinical aspect, addressing specific muscle issues and chronic conditions. But there is a much deeper and more human element included in even that kind of massage therapy, and I hope I’m getting better and better at addressing that even in the most clinically-focused of sessions, because feeling nourished and comfortable in your own skin is a basic and often overlooked aspect of addressing issues in the physical body.

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When Carl McVey retired, a local newspaper did a lengthly retrospective of his life and career in White County, which included also being a nurse, an anesthesiologist, and one term as a city councilman. I was a little surprised, but shouldn’t have been, that in his interview, he noted his belief in the power of appropriate, caring touch. I only had a few interactions with Mr. McVey over the years that I recall, but he always knew me by name, and one on of those types to seem to know everyone by name. He left a legacy behind in his community that touched a lot of people’s lives. Here’s to striving to do the same.