My father got diagnosed with leukemia when I was 12, but, as much as the incident forced me to deal with mortality at a young age, I didn’t really relate that mortality to myself, as much as to my parents. When my mother got diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2008, I was older and better able to realize the connection between what we put into our body and the ultimate health of that body. Following her breast cancer diagnoses, I quit eating factory farmed meat and produce full of hormones and pesticides, attempting to limit my intake of carcinogens.
But, with law school and all around laziness, I soon fell out of step with healthy eating and, even though I still tried to be healthy, often found myself grubbing on tater tots, chicken wings and beer with buddies after class. Then three major events happened in the health of my family, all in a month’s time: my sister had an emergency C-section, my younger brother got diagnosed with tongue cancer and my grandmother had a stroke and died.
All three events brought the reality of how precious our health is crashing down upon me. As I sat in my grandmother’s hospital room for 10 days watching her die, I read pamphlet after pamphlet about stroke prevention and healthy heart eating and realized that, even when eating my healthiest, I’m still not doing enough to protect my body. My grandmother was a healthy woman, exercising daily and eating relatively well, and I admired the fact that she had made it 85 years without many health issues. Sure, a lot of this can be attributed to luck, but – especially because my grandmother believed we make our luck – I would be remiss to not credit my grandmother’s healthy lifestyle for her well-being.
When late one night in my grandmother’s hospital room, my father confessed to me that he wanted to start living a healthier life so he can be around to see his grandchildren have children, I too decided to take on the challenge that is being healthier, if not for me, then for the family that I love and want to spend as much time with as possible.
So it came to be that the same grandmother and father who both harped on me for my weight as a child and gave me the body issues I still deal with today, eventually did convince me to change my eating ways.
I should point out here two important differences between this decision to eat healthier as an adult and the diets forced on me as a child: 1. I’m an active participant in this change and 2. I’m following by example. When my grandmother forced a young child to eat salad with no dressing instead of the spaghetti and meatballs everyone else got, she was doing more harm than good – a type of harm I still work through in therapy. By singling me out as “the fat one” and putting me on diets while everyone else ate disgusting fast food, my grandmother and other family members not only caused me permanent emotional damage but also allowed my brother and sister to gain unhealthy eating habits they eventually would have to break when their metabolisms caught up with their eating.
I knew that if I was going to make a change in my eating habits I was going to have to forgive and somehow forget the harm done to me by my grandmother and father and family members and random other people who felt like they had a right to chime in on what I was eating. I knew I had to slow down and appreciate my food, instead of shoving it in before someone noticed I was eating, like I had to do as a child.
Realizing I still held so much pain from the torment I endured from the diets forced on me throughout my life, I knew what my first step had to be: forgiveness. I had to forgive those who tried to help me but ultimately hurt me and I had to forgive myself for the self-inflicted harm I’ve done as well.
So, as soon as I got the next chance to be alone with her, I forgave my grandmother. I told her listless body that I forgave her for all the times she hurt me, all the times she pointed out my imperfections, all the times she herself was not perfect. I spoke to her of the love I had for her and the love I knew she had for me, and recognized out loud that she was only trying to help me, even if it hurt me.
I told my grandmother I was moving on and therefore she too could move on. And a few hours later, when she did just that, I held her hand, my heart only full of love and respect for this woman who, despite her misguided attempts at changing who I was, really wanted the best for me in my life.
And so it was, with a mourning heart, that I took on A Healthy Challenge and began the physically and emotionally exhausting journey to healthier living.