A recent client of mine was relatively healthy (blood pressure controlled by medication) and physically strong and fit for someone over age 80. He came to me at the request of his daughter. His goal was to improve his general fitness, and to fulfill a long-held dream to get back on his skis - a sport that he loved through much of his life.
As I soon discovered, the real challenge was not his physical fitness and strength, but his desire to live and to make the best of his remaining life. His wife had died, taking the wind out of his sails 6 months before our meeting. Prior to her death, he was quite active. Before he underwent hip surgery in his late 60's, he was an avid skier.
Initially, each of his workouts was a struggle. His caring and supportive daughter had to literally force him to exercise and move his body. Despite being physically strong and with working joints and good muscle mass throughout his body, he had gone from a walk to a combined walk/shuffle almost overnight. He was only a shell of his former self. His eyes were often distant; rarely was he fully present during a workout session. He came to his private sessions and attended some of our classes to appease his daughter's desire for him to experience as much time as possible with his kids and grandchildren. The problem was that it was not his desire to attend, nor to exercise.
His obvious joy for skiing and love for his daughter and grandchildren were still not enough motivation to get the best of the remaining years. I pushed him and did my best to cajole him into making an effort at his exercise and to improve his walking. During this time, I learned that organized exercise had never been part of his life. Furthermore, spending money on himself did not come easy, compounding his lack of enthusiasm.
During his workouts, I often wondered about his thoughts and feelings and where his memories were taking him, even though I just wanted him to exercise. Part of me yearned to shake him awake and back to the present; another part practically demanded that he desire and choose his current life. Even though I pushed and pushed, it was impossible for me to break him away from his thoughts for longer than a few moments. I could see that he was enjoying the images of his life as he gazed out the window between sets.
Suddenly, I noticed a slight change in his approach. He was coming on his own two days per week and seemed interested in improving. He made some progress in his balance and coordination and had stopped being so obstinate with his daughter. He was engaged more with the moment and with the others in class. He had stepped on the path towards improving his fitness.
So it seemed. Six weeks later, he did not come to the club as expected. His son-in-law found him lying peacefully on the floor. He'd left this world to join his wife.
With such a caring family, this man was still unable to muster one last stand at life. I realized yet again that success begins with an internal desire. It seems that even with every secret, key, approach, exercise regimen and tip to life sitting at our fingertips, the true power to live life still comes from within. It is an internal decision that must be accepted and relentlessly pursued; otherwise, we are destined to go through the motions and perhaps dying while we should still have some time on the clock