I ran into a young friend I’ll call Alice at the market on Saturday.

As we chatted, she volunteered, “I’m going to see Sally this afternoon. She’s so sad. Her kitty is dying. That cat was with her all through the time of her mom’s death, so now it’s like losing her mother all over again!” It turns out, Sally has learned Reiki, although Alice has not.

“I keep telling her to Reiki the cat,” Alice said.

“Remind her to treat herself too,” I added.

And then Alice said wistfully,”If I knew how, I could do that for her.”

“That would be great,” I replied. “But honestly, Alice, just your touch is enough.” She looked at me suspiciously. “Really,” I said. “Hold her hand, or just put your hand on her back for a while. It all helps.”

Often I hear people say they want to reach out, but don’t. They hesitate, not really knowing what to do or how. Especially when a dear one—human or animal—is dying, we can feel so helpless. It seems the need to make contact, to reassure, to touch is almost instinctive in humans. Mostly, I think, we just need the permission to do what we’re naturally inclined to do.

If you are familiar with Reiki, you know how deeply soothing a gentle touch can be. Imagine how it might feel to leave this life, leave your body, leave all that is familiar. No matter what you believe awaits you on the other side, getting out of this life is definitely a challenging, sometimes arduous, process. Medical professionals are commited to providing as much relief as possible in the final hours. Spiritual traditions, as well, teach methods or rituals for soothing the dying person’s heart/mind/soul. Your tender touch can also bring much comfort and peace to a dying friend or pet.

Studies show that touch—even without the added “oomph” of Reiki energy—can relieve anxiety and ease pain. Any place you can lay your hands—resting them on a foot or arm, or simply holding a hand—is reassuring. Thinking of the possible suffering of the other person, try to make yourself as still and calm as you can, imagining yourself as a kind of buouy for their journey and the touch of your hand as the line that keeps them afloat for as long as possible.

And don’t forget the caregivers. In my friend’s story, the dying kitty was getting comfort from Sally, but Sally needed support as well. Capital Hospice in Washington, D.C. cautions, “Many caregivers find it much easier to focus on their loved one’s needs, and neglect their own.” According to their end-of-life support team, studies show that an estimated 46 to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed. A healing touch—massage, Reiki, or the kind gesture of a friend—can do so much to help the caregivers know they are not alone in their efforts.

In my life I’ve been blessed to support many friends and clients through their dying, and Reiki is an exquisite tool for those times. But the opportunities come for all of us. Another friend’s beloved old dog passed away peacefully last week, and someone else I know just lost her mother. Every day we meet someone who could benefit from our touch.

Remember that Diana Ross hit? “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand. Make this world a better place if you can.” Sing it to yourself once in a while. Let that be the permission you need to offer your hand whenever you have the chance.

by Barbara McDaniel, founder partner in Reiki Healing Arts