The Lessons I learned the Week I watched my Mother die.
Updated: May 8, 2021
“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him”
Think about the MOST challenging thing you have ever done.
Did that challenging experience help you become stronger, learn, change and grow?
Most of the time when I ask that question the answer is yes and the follow-up commentary distills a great depth of personal growth, development, change and transformation.
I truly believe that it is not until we experience our darkest moments that we are able to truly see light.
No one talks about death but we will all die. We avoid it, perhaps like how easily we avoid making better food choices or how we put off fitness and therefore training our bodies to move better. I’m not naive to think that hundreds of people will read this and be compelled to make a change, but if one person does, then it truly has served its purpose.
I have written this article over and over in my mind, on paper, on multiple different electronic devices and even notes on some napkins… and I realized why it has been so hard and why I have taken so long. This is the most important thing I believe that I will ever write.
I am not special. I have many friends, clients, colleagues and acquaintances who have gone through their own incredible challenges but I am a fitness and health professional and I have a message for you.
When it comes to health and fitness there is so much noise and debate about diets and deadlifts and how to get six pack abs that it turns most people off. I have something else I want you to consider.
We say, “Life is short” but do we really think about what that means? Do we really live each day like we believe it?
7 Years ago, I watched my Dad battle terminal brain cancer. I wrote about how strength training and fitness helped me cope both physically and mentally for the Huffington Post.
1 Year ago, I sat beside my Mom for 4 days as she slowly left this world after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s.
Both experiences, though incredibly heart breaking, were pivotal in developing a greater appreciation for life, the incredible gift of our health and my role as a health coach.
It made me change the way I lived my life but also the way in which I understood, executed and articulated my role as fitness and health professional.
Both experiences made me understand at a much deeper level, that fitness, training, movement, nutrition and wellness can have such a huge impact on the quality of life that we enjoy today and every day going forward.
I began my career in fitness to help my clients feel good by losing weight, as someone who struggled for many years with my own weight issues, until finding fitness. As I matured with life and educational experience in my career as a fitness professional, I realized that fitness was far more powerful than scale victories and skinny jeans. I learned that fitness was about physical and emotional transformations and helping my clients move pain free, have strength to travel and to explore and to discover new adventures in their life. I realized that fitness helped so many of my clients attain a body that was lean, strong and fit but also agile, powerful and flexible; at every age, ranging from 12 to 82.
Looking back, I thought I had discovered the greater purpose and meaning of training (physical and fitness transformation) until 2013 when my whole world changed with the sudden death of my mother in law and later that year the death of my father. It began an even greater shift into having a better appreciation not just for fitness and health and my role in helping others, but for truly living and teaching the urgency of the mantra ‘life is short’.
Fast forward to 2019 after 6 years of evolving my personal mindset, my business, my coaching and my outlook on health and fitness. My Mother who had been struggling with health issues, living in a nursing home on a specialized Alzheimer’s floor, took a turn for the worse.
When I received the phone call that my Mom had stopped eating and was in her final stages I was devastated but also relieved as she was no longer recognizable to the person she once was. Perhaps you are reading this unfamiliar with what Alzheimer’s disease and mental illness is, with only a framework created from news clips and article. I want to tell you, until you've had to walk into a locked security unit (something that is necessary for patients so they don’t get lost or leave and hurt themselves) until you've had your own Mother or Father, Aunt, Uncle, brother or sister look at you and ask you who you are, until you have had to feed your loved one because they have lost the ability to do so, then maybe you just don't understand that yes, it can happen to anyone, and yes, it is such a horrible disease.
Over the next four days, while some might find it odd, I would go to the studio coach our members and then go to be with my Mom. There was no question her time in this world was ending. When I woke up each of those four mornings I was barely able to make it out of my bed. I was sad, I was exhausted and I just wanted to wake-up to a different reality than I was facing. I would arrive at my fitness studio and it was filled with movement, health and happiness. The studio represented life and it gave me the strength to then embrace my fate of helping my Mom approach her death. It presented a powerful dichotomy of what was slowly happening with my Mom and it was this celebration of life that gave me incredible strength.
When you watch someone slowly pass from this world it is utterly heart breaking. Words cannot describe how sad and how painful it is watching someone you love struggle for each breath. Every breath could be the last which you both hope for but then wish it is not to be. It is a humbling, sad, frustrating and raw experience.
There are so many thoughts, memories and realizations I had over those four days. They will probably stand to be the most profound 4 days of my life. Most of them were spent holding my Mom's hand, with her favourite music softly playing in the background. With her big green eyes wide open between bouts of long sleeps, it was truly humbling to see the delicate fragility of life.
Here is what I want you to know. Here is what I think as a fitness professional I really want you to understand.