He didn’t come alone. His wife came too, sitting at the coffee table with tight shoulders, looking a little folded in on herself, slowly sipping the tea I served them. It was difficult to know what he was thinking because he was wearing a blank expression. Most people coming for the first time are usually anxious, distrustful, challenging… or hopeful. Our two cats and our dog work as “animal therapists” with some. Our first timers usually calm down when one of them sits on their lap, and, with a friendly nudge, encourages their hands to pet them. Normally, their energy shifts as we talk; they look relaxed and more like themselves. He remained vacant.
Bella cozying up with a visitor
“Look Sam, I don’t just talk to people,” Jerzy said. “I’m a coach. I think that what he needs is a therapist, not me. I can help someone who wants to make changes if they have problems with their body like pains, losing weight or if they want to get stronger or faster. Even for that they need to be ready. It’s not easy to make changes in your lifestyle, and the older you are the more difficult it is. Your whole thought paradigm shifts. And then it ripples through your whole life.”
“Can you make an exception?” Sam asked. “I feel pretty sure you can help him. Look at me, I wasn’t ready for it either. My wife really should take the credit, she was the one to change first, and I liked what happened with her.”
“Ok. You’re right.” Jerzy said, after a long pause of deep thinking. “Sometimes we need help from the outside, like when we’re sick and someone has to take over because we’re not capable of thinking straight.”
“Great! I’ll gladly pay for the session. He’s coming in a few weeks with his wife to visit.”
And now here they were. Reclining comfortably on our blue couches, listening to Jerzy explaining the program without interruption.
Finally, Jerzy said, “So, what do you think Andrew? Do you think that this program is a good fit for you? Something you’ll be able to follow?”
“But I’m happy.” He said it with a crooked smile on his face.
“Well we can see about that. I’m like a scientist, only facts tell me what’s real. How about we start with you stepping on the scale right in the corner, to see how happy your body is. Then let’s measure your body fat and muscle mass.”
The facts were speaking against what Andrew had said: he was around 60 pounds’ overweight, with 40% body fat.
“I told you that things were getting out of hand,” Mary, his wife, said. “You are always tired and you watch football until late, drinking beer and eating chips.”
“Well, not everyone can be thin. I’m big-boned.” He was trying to persuade himself. “It is just a little pleasure that I have. What’s wrong with watching TV?” His voice rose a little.
“It just too much pleasure and too often,” Mary sadly commented. “You’ve became more and more sedentary and you never eat vegetables. Only meat and potatoes. Do you realize that you drink almost every day?”
“Andrew, how old are you?” Jerzy interrupted the couple’s squabbling.
“Ok. Now how do you see yourself in, let’s say, five years or ten years? Or twenty?”
“The way he’s going he’ll end up like his father, getting a heart attack,” Mary added.
“So there’s a family history of heart attack?”
“Yes, my father, my grandfather and my two uncles all died of heart attacks.” Despite the honesty of his statement, Andrew still seemed not to care.
“You see, heart attack is a condition. I strongly feel that the same goes with strokes, or diabetes. Problems with lifestyle accelerate as we age. We become less active and need less food because we’re no longer growing. Then as we age, we can only grow bad things inside the body, just to state it simply.” Said Jerzy.
There was a minute of silence, all of them sitting at the table lost in their own thoughts.
Jerzy broke the silence. Looking at Andrew’s wife he asked, “Imagine Andrew dies, what is it that you’re you afraid of?”
Tears welled in her eyes.
“I don’t want Andrew to die like his father. He’s still young and life has a lot to offer. We don’t talk about what will happen when we retire. No plans. I feel that this kind of life we have is not what I imagined when we were working hard, raising our children. Now we have grandchildren but I worry he won’t even be there to watch them grow up!”
Andrew didn’t change his expression, just continued to gaze at the table. Jerzy then broke in. “Do you have good relationships with your two sons and your daughter? What do you think it will be like for them when you’re gone? Do they rely on you and expect you to be around for them?”
After a long silence, Andrew quietly said that he hadn’t thought about these things before. “I’ve never been afraid of dying. I always thought that life would just go on….”
It was clear that the appointment was coming to an end, and the couple left with a heavy atmosphere lingering in the room. Jerzy felt frustrated, that it may have been a mistake to see them, that he couldn’t be of much help.
Six months later Sam came for one of his occasional sessions. “Have you heard anything from Andrew?” he asked. Jerzy replied that he hadn’t, and that he wasn’t sure if the appointment had really helped.
“Are you kidding?” said Sam. “He’s a completely different man! He read The Happy Body book on the plane and the moment they landed they went straight to Whole Foods and stocked up on healthy foods for your program. He started exercising right away, following the guidelines, and he’s already lost thirty-five pounds!”
Jerzy was stunned. He’d assumed that his words had no impact, that Andrew would be resistant until the end. He wondered if raising the question of his own death had somehow opened Andrew’s imagination to the point where he realized how his own life impacted everyone around him. He had responsibilities to the people who loved him. And he ultimately gracefully embraced these responsibilities. The next thirty years suddenly didn’t look so gruesome for him once he took charge of his life.
Do you see how your presence in others’ lives makes a difference? How could you deepen your relationships so they become more open and more real?
Leave your response below in the comments.