Dear Reader, I am writing this reflection article to commemorate the seventh anniversary of my Grief Massage website, www.griefmassage.org. I first established the website on June 22, 2010 and it was a very important step in sharing my work and establishing Grief Massage as a “real” modality in the world. Whether you are a regular visitor, or this is your first time, I want to thank you for being a part of this journey by visiting my website!

Linking Grief and Massage Therapy
When I first began developing this modality and speaking about Grief Massage (in 2008), it felt like a radical idea to even link the words “massage therapy” and “grief” in the same sentence.

The first time I gave a commencement address at a graduation ceremony for my alma mater, The Therapeutic Massage Training Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina (TMTI), I felt honored to be sharing my personal story of loss and healing with help from massage. But, I also remember a sweet woman coming up to me after my talk and asking to hear more about “Grease Massage” – which was apparently what she “heard” when I referred to my work as “Grief Massage”.

Around that same time, one of my relatives called me on the phone and when she heard my voicemail message (which referred to my “Grief Massage” services), she too interpreted it as “Grease Massage”.

“Grease Massage”.

It’s funny, looking back now.

But at the time, I felt deeply discouraged because this important modality was bubbling up from my soul - rooted in my own very real experiences of loss and healing—and I wanted to share my work out loud but I was struggling express this vision with my spoken words.

Massage was a true sanctuary for me during my own times of grieving and I wanted to provide the safest, warmest sanctuary possible for others. Calling my work Grief Massage just felt right. But it also sometimes felt like other people really weren’t hearing me. I.e. Sometimes people were just hearing “Grease Massage”.

I kept trying of course. I spoke at another graduation at TMTI. I presented information about my work at a local chapter of The Compassionate Friends (a wonderful support group for grieving parents).

But I was struggling with feeling heard and understood around this work. Another struggle at the time was the fact that speaking about Grief Massage sometimes felt vulnerable and embarrassing.

This work was deeply personal, and poured so directly from my heart and my own experiences, that I felt like I was allowing my listeners to read my diary when I spoke about it. I couldn’t speak about Grief Massage without revealing my own loss journey. I couldn’t tell anyone else’s story when I shared this work. And sometimes, telling my own story was hard.

Writing about Grief Massage

Although speaking about Grief Massage was a challenge for me during those early years, I found that writing about Grief Massage flowed much more easily.

When I wrote about Grief Massage, especially when I asserted this work as a “real thing” by capitalizing the “G” in Grief and the “M” in Massage (which was done very intentionally), I was able to express my vision and calling much more freely.

For me, writing has always been a natural gift (one I am deeply grateful for).

So, I quickly discovered that writing about Grief Massage was an important way for me to start spreading the idea and the vision behind my work. It’s hard to believe that it’s now been nearly seven years since I boldly put my vision for Grief Massage out into the world by registering my website (www.griefmassage.org) and beginning to write about it.

Seven Years Ago

Back in June 2010, it was my birthday and my partner surprised me with one of the new, tiny laptop computers that were popular at the time. I was simply thrilled with the idea of taking my laptop with me everywhere, of having the opportunity to use my spare time (no matter where I was) to log on to the internet and start writing and sharing my vision. That birthday gift was an important tool.

Once I registered my domain and set up my first version of this website (www.griefmassage.org), I soon began using my downtime between massage clients to write about Grief Massage.

And before long, I felt emboldened to put myself out there even more.

That same summer, I went to a local car parts store and purchased one of the customizable license plate frames that allow you to create your own message. I created a license plate frame to advertise my website (hoping that people were interested would visit me online where I could share information about Grief Massage). When I was driving around Charlotte, it felt both embarrassing (vulnerable) and mission-centered to know that I was sharing this idea – the words “Grief Massage”—with the world. Everyone who found themselves stopped behind my car at a red light was exposed to the idea that grief and massage therapy belonged in the same sentence.

I started hearing from people who were interested in my website - and in Grief Massage - almost immediately. And I wasn’t just hearing from people in my local community. I remember that one of the first emails I received via this website came from someone in another part of the world.

It was amazing to realize that my words could reach so far. Grief Massage was becoming a“real thing” – it simply required me to keep writing, keep sharing, and keep putting myself (and my story) out there.

Writing about Grief Massage Led to Larger Opportunities

The opportunities that came over the next few years – partnership with a non-profit organization and Grief Massage grants from The Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF) and exposure in my local newspaper, a local news channel, and a large corporate massage newsletter – would likely not have been possible if I had not taken that original step of creating this website and putting myself and Grief Massage out into the world through the written word.

These larger opportunities led to many emails from licensed massage therapists around the country (and around the world) who heard about my work, and wanted to learn about offering Grief Massage in their own communities. This was my next challenge, my next learning curve: learning to translate my own vision and experiences into a class or training program that I could share with others. Part of me had always known that this stage of my work was coming – but it was terrifying. Again, the feeling that I was letting someone else read my diary kept coming up. It was so incredibly personal.

I’d had the opportunity to train a small group of massage therapists in my local community through a grant program, and I had loosely organized my ideas into a course that I had titled The Joy of Grief Massage℠ - but the idea of translating my experience into something I could share on a wider scale actually led to something I never expected to experience: writers block.

I sat down and planned out a Grief Massage course several times. I would set aside entire days for course creation and I often ended up just feeling sick to my stomach. Writing had proven to be so easy for me in the past – yet I was at a loss for how to channel my Grief Massage work onto paper as a course.

I spoke to a wise mentor about the nauseous feeling I kept having when I sat down to write my course, and she gave me a great gift of affirmation when she said, “Well, yes - you are creating from the void”.

The void.

Those words rang so true for me. I am still so grateful for how my mentor affirmed the terror and anxiety of creating something from nothing. It was true. I was reaching deep within myself to draw forth my own insights and experiences and share them with others. I couldn’t rely on anything outside of myself to do this. It was vulnerable and terrifying.

I knew I needed to take the leap and create the Grief Massage course by the end of 2013 because I had been accepted into an undergraduate program at Queens University of Charlotte and planned to return to school to study psychology in January 2014. That same wise mentor (the one who articulated the terror of creating from a void) had been the catalyst for my return to school as she foresaw the need for a formal academic degree if I were to reach my full potential in sharing Grief Massage with the world.

So as I prepared to return to school and study psychology, I recognized that it would be difficult to balance the creation of my Grief Massage course with my upcoming academic demands. I had the sensation of a clock ticking. The nearer I drew to the end of the 2013, the more urgently I felt the need to create my course in Grief Massage.

I will always remember the day that I finally broke through my paralysis around creating the course.

Creating a Course on Grief Massage: The Joy of Grief Massage℠

Here’s how it happened: I realized that unless I shared my Grief Massage vision with many others, it would likely die with me.

Specifically, it occurred to me that, if I were to die young and with unfulfilled potential (like my brother did), all of the insights, and experience, and knowledge I was supposed to share with the world would never reach the people who were supposed to receive it.

When I really felt that fact in my bones, I was energized and nearly possessed with a sense of urgency.

Suddenly, it wasn’t just about creating my course before I started college in January 2014. Rather, it became all about recording my vision for Grief Massage so that others could learn from me – even in the event that my life ended unexpectedly and I was gone.

Because of my personal experiences with untimely loss (my brother Chris died unexpectedly in an accident in 2005 and my Mom died suddenly by suicide in 2009), the reality that life could end abruptly was very real to me. And, I didn’t want to die with unfinished business - I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to express my calling.

Inspired by this new paradigm, I fired up my computer and just began speaking from the heart into my webcam. I recorded several hours of largely unscripted Grief Massage instruction – I simply imagined that I was speaking directly to someone who needed to hear my message. I said everything that I would regret not saying in the event of my own untimely death.

There was an incredible sense of relief when I finally felt that I recorded everything I needed to share about Grief Massage!

It’s ironic that in the beginning of my Grief Massage work, speaking was difficult but writing was easy. But then, in creating my course, I found that writing had been a struggle while speaking from the heart on video was actually quite easy.

Once that original series of videos had been created, I was able to easily translate the Grief Massage information into a written training manual (The Joy of Grief Massage Training Manual). My writing abilities were called back into service as I edited, cited any sources that had influenced my approach, divided the training manual into several sections (modules) and then organized the course into a combination of video instruction and written instruction.

I submitted the course manual to the United States Copyright Office on December 23, 2013 – just one week before my personal deadline of the course completion by the end of the year.

And then I began sharing my course online, free of charge, with any massage therapist who wanted to help others through Grief Massage (and who agreed to volunteer 10 hours of their time working with grieving clients in their own community). After some time, I began charging a small fee for the online course, but I ended up refunding most of students who paid that small fee for the class -- because there were still small technical glitches that I felt needed to be worked out.

Of course, the truth is, the technical side of things weren’t so bad. I just wasn’t comfortable charging for the information. I was so passionate about sharing my work that I wanted to give it away.

Balancing School and Teaching The Joy of Grief Massage℠ as a Live Workshop


Part of me felt that my mission was accomplished when I sent my online course out into the world, sharing it with any massage therapist who had interest in Grief Massage. It was incredibly satisfying to know that the ideas could never die now – no matter what might happen to me personally.

But, over time I realized that there was a lack of personal connection with many of the massage therapists who took my course. Sometimes I never heard from students again – and I had no idea how they were using the information I had shared on Grief Massage. Other times, my own time constraints (i.e. difficulty balancing my school demands with keeping on top of the Grief Massage course emails) caused me to lose touch with students.

I knew my work was out there, but I didn’t feel connected to how it was impacting others. That feeling that I had let the world read my diary surfaced from time to time. I knew it was worth it, because I was called to share Grief Massage with the world, but I found myself (again) in a very vulnerable position.

Then, in 2014, I taught my Grief Massage course live in Charlotte, and I realized that the personal connection of a small group was much more conducive to the spirit of the information. I still felt vulnerable, but I also felt connected.

I really learned a great deal from teaching my class live – and I soon applied with the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) to teach the live course as an Approved Provider. In June 2014 (near the four year anniversary of this website), I received approval and became Approved Provider #521. Then in October 2014, I incorporated the Institute for Grief Massage and made my commitment to teaching this work official.

When my busy schedule as an undergraduate psychology student allowed, I offered the class in Charlotte - deeply humbled by the fact that many of the massage therapists who registered for the live class were willing to travel from out of state.

And, each time I taught the class live and connected face-to-face with the massage therapists who wanted to learn about Grief Massage, I was able to go deeper and deeper. I was growing in my ability to teach, to create a safe and nurturing classroom space, to balance the expression of my personal experience with objective data, and to create an unforgettable hands-on experience for my students.

At the same time, as I continued with my undergraduate psychology studies, I developed an interest in public health and added it as a minor. At every possible opportunity, I incorporated grief and loss into my projects, papers, and research. I knew that my undergraduate studies were strengthening my ability to teach my Grief Massage course, and as time went on, I slowly incorporated more and more information (especially relevant public health and psychology research) into how I taught the course.

By the time I graduated summa cum laude in May 2017, I had conducted an independent research project on the effects of humility and death anxiety on responsiveness to the bereaved, as well as a year-long senior thesis/literature review on the effects of grief on the body. I had also expanded my live in-person Grief Massage class into a Skype course (teaching massage therapists live, one-on-one or in small groups, in a series of five 2 hour classes).

Amazingly, my undergraduate studies in psychology had fed into my Grief Massage teaching, and at the same time, my calling to share Grief Massage with the world had been at the root of my academic studies. Twin passions truly fueled my life and work from 2014 to 2017.

Coming Full Circle: Answering the Question “What is Grief Massage?”

Now as I approach the seven year anniversary of founding this website, and going very public with my Grief Massage work, I am circling back to the question of what this work actually is.

“Googling” Grief Massage back in 2010 (when this website was first created) yielded very few results, but today I can “Google” Grief Massage and see a number of websites specifically listing Grief Massage among their services. Many are students who took the early online pilot version of The Joy of Grief Massage℠, connected with me via Skype or attended my live class in-person. Amazingly, I even see some folks who have not connected with me talking about or offering Grief Massage.

As was my goal, I am now seeing that Grief Massage (intentionally spelled with a capital G and a capital M) is becoming a real thing. It’s a “real thing”! I feel that an important part of my life’s work was accomplished with this simple fact.

Note: Of course, it is important to acknowledge that massage therapists were surely helping grieving clients prior to my introduction of the Grief Massage class and concept – and I know that other massage teachers such as Lyn Prashant and Mary Kathleen Rose were teaching students how bodywork could help bereaved people long before I began my own work.

But, the particular ideas and vision behind my work – and the particular name Grief Massage – were successfully birthed into the world by me over the past seven years. And, I have to say that I am very proud of that.

As the Grief Massage modality grows and public awareness of the benefits of massage during bereavement increases, more and more people will ask what, exactly, Grief Massage is.

I know many of my students come to The Joy of Grief Massage℠ class with questions about whether or not the goal of the session is to release grief (and if not, what is the point of calling it Grief Massage?). Spoiler alert: the goal is not to release grief – or anything else. Actually, my approach emphasizes that the massage therapist should have no goal at all for the session – other than simply providing a safe and gentle shelter for the grieving client.

So, in answer to the question of what Grief Massage actually is: I have come to believe that Grief Massage, as I have practiced and taught it, is primarily a philosophy and approach that caters gentle massage therapy to early grief.

The Philosophy and Approach of Grief Massage

In the most current version of The Joy of Grief Massage℠, I take massage therapists through a five step educational process that aims to increase empathy for the experience of early grief (i.e. the high stress levels, the physical effects, the particular daily life “loss reminders” and cultural expectations that grieving people face) while also preparing them for the practical details of offering Grief Massage to clients.

I teach them to make the entire process of receiving a massage (from the simplest details of intake and scheduling, to the creation of a “cocoon-like” treatment room atmosphere) very sensitive to the reality that grieving clients face. We address boundaries, emotional release, and staying in scope of practice.

And, while my Grief Massage sequence originally consisted of 20 minutes of light therapeutic work in an area of tension, followed by 40 minutes of gentle Swedish-style relaxation work for the back, calves and feet, arms and hands, and face and scalp, I have since moved in an even gentler direction with the sequence.

The current version of The Joy of Grief Massage℠ includes instruction in an extremely gentle massage with no therapeutic aspect. The sequence I now teach is 60 minutes of relaxation-only work to the back, calves and feet, arms and hands, and face and scalp (a sequence that I call Safe and Gentle Grief Massage℠).

I teach my students to work slower and more gently than they might initially feel comfortable doing – and I teach specific meditative and visualization practices to help. It’s all about releasing that very human impulse to “fix” and to trust the power of genuine compassionate presence. It becomes very real in practice and I’ve been honored to watch students move from initial discomfort to wonder and understanding.

When I talk about Grief Massage today, and when I teach my particular sequence (Safe and Gentle Grief Massage℠), I often refer to the massage table as a cocoon. In truth, the entire massage room can be considered a cocoon. My philosophy is all about helping the massage therapist to create the absolutely safest, “no pressure”, “no expectations allowed” sanctuary.

In a world and culture where grieving people feel pressure to grieve “correctly” or to “think positively” or to “move on” quickly, I am encouraging students to resist the cultural weirdness that currently exists around death, loss and grief.

I am asking them, as massage therapists, to create important cultural change by offering pockets of refuge where grieving clients can simply show up as they are (i.e. exhausted, sad, disconnected, overtired, or even grouchy) and collapse onto the massage table in an atmosphere of complete and total acceptance. I’m teaching the value of gentle touch with no agenda.

That, to me, is Grief Massage. That is my work.

Whether or not my students follow the exact sequence I teach, or call it Safe and Gentle Grief Massage℠, is far less important than the fact that they walk away with a sense of how important empathy, respect, acceptance, and NOT “fixing” things is when they work with grieving clients.

The commitment to empathy, respect, acceptance and NOT “fixing” things is the truest essence of Grief Massage.

Bringing Grief Massage into the Future

So where will we be in three years, when this website reaches the decade anniversary? How about another decade out into the future? Where will we be at the fifty year anniversary, in 2060?

My hope is that this work will continue to grow and expand, and that my Grief Massage classes will empower massage therapists to grow and develop their own versions of this work. I hope that by the time we reach the fifty year anniversary, Grief Massage will be a modality that thousands of massage therapists teach and practice.

In service of this goal, I am preparing to put myself “out there” in a new way, by launching a podcast called “Grief Massage Conversations” this summer (2017).

I have also outlined a series of new classes for alumni of The Joy of Grief Massage℠, and I plan to start offering these advanced trainings in the near future. These classes for alumni will be called The Heart of Grief Massage℠ and Creating Grief Massage℠,

The Heart of Grief Massage℠

The Heart of Grief Massage℠ will take my introductory Grief Massage training to an even deeper level, offering a deep exploration of public health and psychology research on bereavement and the body (sourced from my thesis paper on grief and the body) as well as in-depth practical training and the opportunity to earn a professional certification in “Safe and Gentle Grief Massage℠”.

Students will have the opportunity to work with grieving clients in their own private practice or community and receive mentoring while completing case studies as part of this advanced course. Students will learn specific daily practices and tools for releasing the need to “fix” on an even deeper level and will also develop their own customized Grief Massage talk or presentation for use in their community (helpful for connecting with referral sources or potential clients).

Creating Grief Massage℠

Designed for alumni who have successfully completed both The Joy of Grief Massage℠ and The Heart of Grief Massage℠, the final course will be called Creating Grief Massage℠.

This very advanced course will be designed for students who would like to train in developing their own unique Grief Massage approach and teaching it to others. Through this course, students will receive personalized mentoring in the unique process that I used to create my original course (including recording their ideas that need to be shared with the world, translating those ideas into text and organized course material, citing sources properly and writing with transparency, copyrighting the material, creating a “beta” or pilot version of the course, and applying with the NCBTMB to become an Approved Provider).

Students who do not wish to create their own Grief Massage modality MAY be able to train as teachers of The Joy of Grief Massage℠ (applications to train in teaching The Joy of Grief Massage℠ will be evaluated on an individual basis).

In Conclusion

I believe that the future growth of Grief Massage – this philosophy and approach of catering gentle massage therapy to early grief – is rooted in community. Massage therapists who practice Grief Massage are (in my opinion) going to be part of important cultural change. I believe that Grief Massage practitioners can help change the world – by making it a gentler, kinder, softer place for people in pain – one massage session at a time.

Personally, in service of my calling to bring Grief Massage into the world, I will be continuing my own education - my graduate coursework begins this fall (2017). I am confident that my graduate studies will serve to deepen my work as a teacher and Grief Massage practitioner, while also preparing me to eventually serve as a licensed counselor. I plan to also pursue doctoral level training in the future, and hope to conduct academic research around Grief Massage.

I have found that academic pursuits provide a beautiful balance to the deeply personal side of my Grief Massage work, and I am honored to be able to share the fruits of my educational pursuits with all of my students. Being a student truly makes me a better teacher.

You Are Part of the Grief Massage Paradigm Shift

Whether you’ve visited this Grief Massage website once, or one thousand times, over the past seven years, I am grateful to you for being here now and for reading these words.

Your interest in Grief Massage is part of the cultural change I envision.

Yes, cultural change happens slowly, but let’s take the long view. By thinking about Grief Massage, talking about Grief Massage, or even making Grief Massage a “real thing” in your town, city, or community, you are making the world a safer and gentler place for grieving humans.

Over a relatively short period of time (just seven years), this website has enabled Grief Massage to grow from a very obscure concept that was commonly misheard as “Grease Massage” to something that can actually be “Googled” and obtained in several cities across the United States (and elsewhere). It’s a very “real thing”!

This growth of Grief Massage has certainly required me to put myself out there and “let other people read my diary”, but this calling is well worth the cost and I intend to keep doing it.

So now as we approach this seven year anniversary of www.griefmassage.org, and as you ask “What is Grief Massage?”, my question to you is:

Won’t you join me, in whatever way you feel called?

© Aimee Joy Taylor, 2017. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this article may be used without express written permission from the author. Aimee can be reached at aimeetaylor@griefmassage.org. Visit her Grief Massage website at www.griefmassage.org.

 

 

 

 

 

​​​​​​What is Grief Massage: 7 Years Later
By Aimee Joy Taylor
June 2017

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