Last week I packed up my suitcase, sublet my townhouse, wrapped up any loose ends, and hopped on a flight to the east coast to spend 10 weeks in my hometown, a suburb of New York City. I have now been in New Jersey for a week, yet it feels like it’s easily been six months. Part of the reason I wanted to be a health coach was that I knew I would have more flexibility and would be able to basically work from anywhere, which appealed to me because all of my family members and most of my friends still live in the tri-state area. And it all came together in perfect timing, because my mother’s health has been rapidly declining over the past year, and something inside me just knew it was time to head back to my hometown, my roots, and be with my family. I wrote a blog about it recently (you can visit it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robin-hoffman/health-coaching_b_3385464.html) and what my intentions were/are for my time here this summer. People always say things like: “You can’t ever prepare yourself,” when it comes to facing an ill parent or family member. And I will say that I never fully understood what this meant until last week when I walked off the plane and into a situation that will forever change the core of who I am. Not just as a person, but as a soul — and not just emotionally, but it will change the course of the rest of my life in a way I never knew was possible.
Caretaking is an interesting concept when it comes to a parent. Before becoming a health coach, I was a nanny for 10+ years for various families and for babies, toddlers, and children in various parts of the country. I wiped noses and made grilled cheese sandwiches and gave baths and put on Band-Aids and kissed boo-boos and read more bedtime stories than I can count. I cleaned up messes, ran loads of laundry and tied shoe after shoe on tiny little feet. But what I didn’t know at the time was that all of that experience would come in handy for me, though not as a mother myself, but instead as caretaker for my own mother. I never would have imagined my life would end up this way. Not once in my wildest dreams did I think this would “happen to me.” I watched friends lose parents to illness and I have read books about it and seen movies about it but it was the sort of thing that I figured just wouldn’t happen to me. My mother was Wonder Woman — she could move trucks and fight cancer and do 400 things at once all while making sure the cookies didn’t burn in the oven. She moved mountains and made anything possible, never forgetting to add in magic to everything she did. And when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, she fought with all she had and she kicked it, going into remission three years ago. I thought the “worst” was behind us at that point, but I had no idea that it was really just the beginning of a truly long, emotional, heart-breaking and exhausting (at times) journey that would lead to the summer of my 30th year being devoted to taking care of my mother. The woman who “never needed help” and “had it all handled” — much like how I view myself.
In the past week, I have had almost no time to myself at all. I left my very self-involved life in Los Angeles last Wednesday and haven’t really looked back once, not because I don’t miss it, but because I have been so focused on everything that is right in front of me. I look back to a week ago when my biggest issue was that a guy I liked wanted to date someone else, or a guy I went on a date with didn’t text or call me back right away. For the past year I have gone through my own emotional stuff, but for the most part have spent my time going to yoga, exercising, drinking green juice, coaching clients, going for beach walks with my dog, and generally living a “luxurious” life. I didn’t have a bigger perspective. I was a mouse running through a forest, only able to see what was directly in front of me. And now, now I feel like a hawk, soaring high above, able to see the bigger picture and beyond. And suddenly, all those little “problems” that I saw all over my life in LA do not really seem all that important to me. My days have been spent wearing a mask and latex gloves while disinfecting everything and anything. I got back from dinner the other night and started laughing when I realized it was 9 p.m. on a Sunday and I was in heels and a dress, on my hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor, wearing a mask. I laughed because this is so real. I laughed because sometimes I miss my luxurious life in Los Angeles where the only person I have to worry about is myself. I laughed because my mother is dying, and there isn’t anything I can do about it except exactly what I am doing. And what I am doing is being present. I am here, as hard as it as and as much as I want to run back to the west coast (at times) I have made a commitment to be here, for her, for my family, for myself in a way that I have never experienced before.
I can’t really say at this point that there is very much positivity in this situation, except for the fact that I now have a different perspective on what is truly “important” to me. Yes, I love all things health-related. I love yoga and green juice and discussing the importance of kale and chia seeds and meditation and cleansing. I love the work I do and my client sessions and singing my heart out at Kirtan. And it is all of these things that have helped me to become closer to myself and learn about myself and it is all of these things that make up who I am and how I live my life. But something I seem to have “forgotten” about during these 12 years I have lived on the other side of the country is my family. Not my close friends or my yoga guru or my Chinese doctor or my massage therapist. My family. The people who have known me since I was born and who have seen me through every stage and age possible. The people who love me inside and out and know what I am thinking without ever needing to ask. The people that I laugh so hard with that my sides hurt and I have tears streaming down my face.
And so I am here. I am tying shoes and helping with baths and putting on bandages and holding hands, but this time not with little kids, but instead with my own mother. I make scrambled eggs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and make sure everything is handled — and take care of myself when I can. There is no way I will walk away from this even feeling like the same person I was even a week ago. Maybe I needed this. Maybe I needed a shift in perspective to remember where I came from, how I was raised, and the values I had instilled in me at a very young age. I have loved my time on the west coast and as much as it has brought me closer to myself in many ways, in other ways it has created a large void and separation. And it feels like here, this summer, as I fall asleep ever night in my childhood bed in my pink room with the lace curtains and the hum of the crickets outside, I am merging my two lives. The 18 years I spent in New Jersey and the 12 years I have spent in California, merging together into one life — the life that makes up me. And it’s beautiful and challenging and emotional and wildly funny at times. And as I sat at dinner last night with my brother and sister-in-law and other family members, laughing and telling stories and just being together, I realized that even in all the hardship and sadness and exhausting days, there is no other place I’d rather be.
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