A Dying Child and His Parents: a Moving Connection

The creative arts can enable meaningful communication and connection at significant transitional moments in life, when there is no other way to communicate.

The following touching vignette, based on true events, was written by licensed clinical psychologist and board certified dance/movement therapist, Lori Baudino.

“Patient Brad is approaching end-of-life, a fact that he and his parents are trying to cope with. At the beginning of the session, he is in bed and unable to move. His parents are at his side. The therapist encourages Brad’s parents to support him with movement–and so the session develops. As part of the movement, they tap Brad’s different body parts, which promotes awareness and helps him identify each part of the body. This awareness and identification helps patients feel grounded and integrated, in contrast to the more regular feeling of disassociating from their body throughout medical procedures.

“As the session develops, imagery starts to come up. The therapist encourages the imagery introduced by the family, who choose to use imagery of walking. Brad’s parents tap and move his limbs like he is walking. Dad is reminded of his child’s love for jumping. In response, the boy comments in short words: “I would jump over a yellow toy car.” The image catches: everybody in the family knows this car and all can picture it. Dad and Mom help lift Brad’s legs as we count together – “Ready, set, jump!” His legs and knees are lifted up off the bed. Dad reports feeling his son actually tense his muscles and lift up, even though doctors have not seen him move. Now, Brad has a slight smile on his face.

“But then, Brad becomes frustrated because his family cannot hear his muffled words. He is not being understood. Water imagery comes up, and he pretends to splash his parents. He is joined by the therapist to splash at his family. He shifts his fingers and, little by little, flicks his wrist and fingers upwards. He says groggily: “Splish.” This begins his game. The entire family engages in pretend fighting, and Brad displays more movement than he has recently.

“Over the course of the game, Mom becomes teary-eyed with joy. Noticing this, the therapist asks her: “When did you last hold your son?” She answers: “It’s been so long.” Dad concurs, saying: “It feels like forever ago.”

“With this new information, the therapist suggests a change in pace. Brad is shifted over in his bed, and Mom climbs in next to him and holds him. Dad is on the other side, and his and his son’s cheeks are pressed together. They all smile and cry. In this emotional moment, Mom comments to the therapist: “Where are you from? You must be from heaven.”

“Brad died 3 days later. With dance/movement therapy, he and his family were able to share this beautiful moment together, acknowledge their love for each other, and cope with the loss.”


Dr. Baudino clarifies the different kinds of movements addressed by dance/movement therapists:

Movement is everywhere, but it’s not all the same. Here are three ways to think about movements.

Learned movements: You might not remember, but you had to learn to walk, pick up your cup of coffee, navigate corners, and type. Dancers learn to balance on their toes, soccer players learn to dribble a ball, and students learn to sit at their desk.

Felt movements: When you’re sad, you tend to look down. When embarrassed, your shoulders may slump. When hugging a loved one, your bodies can shape around each other naturally. Or maybe these feelings look different for you. In any case, you don’t need to think about them. Everybody does them–even infants in the womb.

Experienced movements: You’ve heard how yawning is contagious, right? Or have you noticed how seeing somebody smile automatically makes you smile? These are experienced movements, and they are crucial to building connections with other people. From cultural customs to societal norms, we experience and respond to movement everywhere.

Movement is universal. On the other hand, it’s not all equal. My wave hello and your wave hello might look the same, but they could mean different things to us depending on the situation, our past experiences, and our feelings. You might have heard of some programs that have developed specific movement rituals designed to achieve a particular goal, which is exciting and effective in its own right. Dance/movement therapy, though, specializes in the unique meanings given to movements by the individual.

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