Vignettes: Signor Ludovic’s Story
I practiced as a massage therapist in Italy for about seven years. I came to Signor Ludovic via a local parish priest, Don Rafaele. My husband and I would occasionally go to the little Italian church for Mass and Don Rafaele told the story of Signor Ludovic to illustrate the gospel story in his sermon one Sunday.
Signor Ludovic was a Local farmer, a man of the earth with no formal education. He had worked the land all his life and raised eight children. Suddenly, at age seventy, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheel chair. His whole reason for living, working the land, was taken from him. He spent all his days moaning his lot and railing against God “for what He has done to me”.
At the end of Mass I got up fully intending to leave the church and go home, and instead went and spoke to Don Rafaele. Before I knew it I had volunteered to give massage to Signor Ludovic if he and his family would like that and if his doctor said it would be all right. Several weeks later I found myself in my car with Don Rafaele, massage table, linens and lotions in the back, driving to Signor Ludovic’s home.
When we arrived Signor Ludovic was asleep in his wheelchair on the patio. He was unshaven and somewhat unkempt and he drooled in his sleep. I began to wonder what on earth I had gotten myself into and raised a prayer to God asking for His help to do what I could to bring some comfort, some release to this man. And so in April 1999 began a year long relationship that was to bring me many gifts and blessings.
Michele, Signor Ludovic’s son was very badly physically deformed and because he could not work outside the home, to him had fallen the role of caregiver to his father. He would undress him and help me get him on the massage table and when it was time he would help me turn him over. Initially Signor Ludovic said very little to me and would just stare at me in disbelief as I massaged him. I don’t think they knew how to take this purple-haired woman who had appeared out of the blue to offer this service.
Signor Ludovic wanted to pay me after the first massage (he was very proud), and I refused explaining that massage was a gift that I had received from God and that I wanted to share it with him. He cried and just hung on to my hand. I made arrangements to return the following week and once a week thereafter. Each week he would ask to pay and I would say no and continue to repeat that it was my gift to share.
It was about the fourth week, and after we had dressed him and put him in his chair, he crooked his finger at me and with a sly smile told me, “today I am going to pay you”. I began to refuse, but he ignored me and said something in local dialect to Michele who went into an adjoining room. He came back a moment later carrying a bulging plastic bag full of fresh picked green beans. With a big toothless grin Signor Ludovic said, “It’s a gift I’m sharing with you.” And so it went from week to week, whatever was in season and producing on their land, I would receive a bagful freshly picked that morning.
As time went by Signor Ludovic built up trust with me and told me about his wife who had died several years earlier. He told me how he had built the house he lived in with his own hands and how all he longed to do was return to the land. He frequently asked me why I came to him every week and I always told him, “it’s a gift from God that I want to share with you”.
His son Michele told me how his father no longer complained about his lot in life and was much happier to be around. He said that before I began coming to him, his father would break into uncontrollable sobbing several times a day and that now he rarely cried. He also said that the rest of the family enjoyed being around him more now too. Signor Ludovic told me that his legs felt less “heavy” now and that his back hurt him less and, like a true Italian, he also started to flirt with me a little!!
The weeks that Don Rafaele came to visit and sit and pray while I did the massage, he would talk to me afterwards and reiterated what Michele told me. He also marveled at the fact that he was being given the opportunity to see how the healing powers of God worked in many different ways – even through the hands of a purple-haired massage therapist!
But for me the most amazing part of the relationship with Signor Ludovic was the unspoken friendship that we enjoyed. He was able to communicate so much through his eyes, and the biggest gift he gave me was his pure gratitude and the total feeling of satisfaction that he received from the massage. His eyes would frequently seek out mine during the massage and he would either be saying “thank you” or “oh that feels so good” or “you’re here again – how amazing!”.
I also came to realize that he was giving me an awesome gift in the shape of a mental and spiritual healing with my father. I would frequently think of Dad as I massaged Signor Ludovic, and I was able to come to a place of peace and forgiveness with him for never having said “I love you” to me when he was alive. It seemed as though Signor Ludovic was saying it on his behalf. This was a huge blessing for me.
In February 2000, Signor Ludovic suffered a second stroke which increased the paralysis and robbed him of his speech. I would go and sit with him, place my hands softly on his head and hold him then massage his Hands, one of which was now totally seized up. He would grab my hand with his good hand and carry it to his lips, drool and all, and just hold it there. I saw the life ebbing slowly out of him so began visiting almost every day. His eyes had become rheumy and glazed as though he were absent.
I last saw Signor Ludovic alive in the afternoon of Friday 31 March 2000. He had not eaten for about eight or nine days and was very weak. He was sitting propped up in his chair. There were several members of his family around him. I sat with him and took his feeling hand which he immediately carried to his lips. When it was time for me to leave, I told him I was going out of town for the weekend and would not see him until Monday.
His eyes suddenly cleared and he focused them fiercely into mine and I knew instinctively that he wanted to “tell me” something. I gazed back intently into his eyes and “heard” him tell me that he needed to go. I could not speak out loud, so focused back and “told” him that he should do what he needed to do for himself and thanked him for his presence in my life. He kissed my hand and I leaned over and kissed his cheek and whispered “arrivederci” in his ear.
At 6am on Monday 3 April 2000, before I could get to visit him again, Signor Ludovic passed away. I have thought of him frequently over the years and am truly grateful for the gift of our special relationship, for the joy that he brought into my life, and for the quantum leap in the lesson of compassion that he gave me .