THE BLOG

Health Coaching Hits Close to Home

06/05/2013 01:58 pm ET | Updated Aug 05, 2013

As a health coach, I spend most of my time focusing on clients. And when I am not focusing on my clients, I am focusing on myself and my own health and "taking my own advice," so to speak. Helping others and being of service is my true calling and my passion, and I feel deeply blessed and grateful that my life's work is something I have managed to create for myself as my way of "making" a living. I assist people all over the country to do anything from losing weight to learning to cook to understanding food labels and ingredients, and even just those who really need someone to listen to them and hear what they have to say or feel or think. I can remember being a very young child and whenever I would see someone on the street who looked unhappy or unhealthy, my heart would swell and tears would well up in my eyes. I would feel something inside my little body and I knew, I just knew, there was something I could do to make the world a better place, even if it was just by helping one person at a time. At that time, I had no idea just how close this would hit to home or just how much it would impact my closest relationships.

My mother had three children and I am the youngest. She was a single parent and did everything she could to make sure that my sister, brother and I had everything we needed. Of course, she was human and things didn't always happen with such grace and ease, but we were well cared for, never once went without food or clothes, and always had extra-special holidays and birthdays. In some ways, she gave herself to us in the sense that she made a lot of sacrifices to ensure that we stayed with her and grew up as "normally" as we could. My mother first became ill when I was in the tail end of high school. First it was diabetes and then, years later, cancer. And once that was in remission, she dealt with a multitude of side effects from the chemotherapy, which had basically destroyed her body and immune system and her ability to fight off common infections. Over the past five years this has meant various long-term hospitalizations, treatments, introductions to and withdrawals from various drugs, rehabilitations and therapies, and the list goes on and on. And because I live on the complete opposite side of the country, my attendance throughout these challenges has been scattered, on and off, and touch and go. I have felt torn for the past few years and have done my best to spend as much time on the east coast as I could -- but with work and life, it wasn't easy to make it a reality. And the fact that I was terrified to face my mother's illness didn't help much, either.

This past year, however, after turning 30 and as I have been working with clients and stepping into my own as both a coach and a woman, things have started to change for me. I have started to view "illness" as an opportunity to connect with someone and assist them in taking their perspective a little deeper. Illness isn't always a reason to break out the hand sanitizer and throw on the mask and gloves. In fact, in many cases, it's just the opposite. It's an opportunity to peel back the layers (not just the physical ones) and step a little closer to what is actually going on. For me anyway, it's less of a reason to feel afraid and more of a reason to sit closer to someone, open my ears and heart a little wider, and really hear what they are saying. And since I have become less afraid of all this and less afraid to "take off my mask and gloves," I have felt called to join my family on the east coast and allow my gifts of coaching and being lovingly present to come forward in my role as daughter and sister. My days of being "the baby" of the family are long gone now, and I have felt a burning desire inside to fully step up and into my own soul and let the gifts I have be of service to my own family.

And so next week, I am venturing across the country on what feels like a 10-week pilgrimage, to be there for the one person who gave up so much of her life to make sure I had a good one. The woman who always told me that I was "special" and "different" and the one who always told me at night, as she tucked me into bed, how much I could impact the world if only I put my mind to it. The woman who has been my savior at times, my best friend at other times, and one of the biggest learning opportunities for me all the other times. In her world that is filled with doctors appointments and home health-care aides, sterile gloves and infectious disease doctors, I can be the one to strip down the layers and get real. I can be the smiling face and bright ray of light who just listens to her, loves her, and treats her like the beautiful woman she is, instead of another patient with another thick patient folder. I have the opportunity to take all of the skills I have developed and things I have learned from working with complete strangers, and apply them to one of the closest people to me. I have the gift of taking all of this earned hard work home and at least for now, giving my mother what she deserves -- which is the true, unconditional love, understanding and health education of her daughter.

And as I move into my last week of being in LA until the end of the summer, I am flooded with emotions as I think about my childhood, my memories of my mother, what it's like to be on the east coast in the summer, and how much I have grown up. It's like all of those books and movies where the daughter is all grown up and moves home to temporarily help the family and she has all these realizations of her life and her purpose and her deep, dark passions. Luckily I am already in touch with all those and I can simply allow my focus to be on my mother. I have no idea what it's going to look like or how it's really going to feel or what even comes next after the moment I step off the plane, but I do know that I'm no longer afraid to find out. I no longer have that wave of anxiety brush through my stomach when I think of how she will look or how it will be different or how sad it might be that a part of the idea of my mother is no longer available. But instead I am realizing that in these moments that I have with her, these hours or days or weeks or months, will be some of the most valuable time I ever have in my life. I will never look back on this and say "I wish I hadn't done that." Instead I will cherish this time as a turning point for myself, my career, and my family and have a deeper understanding for this beautiful work that I have been put on this earth to do. So I am taking off my gloves and forgetting about my bank account for a few months as I wade into the most rewarding "client" I will ever have. For all the things my mother did for me and all the nights she sat up with me while I was sick or sad or having nightmares -- for all the school lunches and Dr. Seuss books and chocolate-chip cookies and for all the grape-juice stains she bleached out of the tablecloths and all the present she wrapped from "Santa" and all the miles she drove just to make sure I could be here or there or anywhere. For all that she has done for me, she deserves this. I deserve this. My family deserves this. The baby of the family has finally grown up and it's time to apply my love to my family and help my mother step even more fully into her own soul. Health coaching does hit closer to home than I originally thought, and it's now that all the years of hard work finally make some sense and it's all coming together in something so beautiful. I am blessed.

For more by Robin Hoffman, click here.

For more on caregiving, click here.