My mother-in-law was born with a serious heart defect. As a result she lived her life far differently than most of us. When she was in Junior High she was told that she would probably only live to her mid twenties, and then only if she was very lucky. When she married she was cautioned not to have children because the stress of being pregnant and giving birth would surely kill her. Always the independent woman she nonetheless risked her own life to bring my husband into this world. She often recounted the lengths to which she committed herself to having him. The story was quite harrowing and demonstrated both her courage and love.
She was put into a state of sleep shortly before her baby was due. The doctors then brought her son into the world by way of Caesarian section. She was kept in a slumber until it was deemed safe to bring her back into consciousness. Since she lived on the same street as her mother she was able to rest each afternoon while her mom did much of the heavy lifting with the baby. Slowly but surely she recuperated and surprised her doctors with her resilience.
All of this happened in 1947, so the advances that have been made in the treatment of the heart had not yet been discovered. She was still at high risk of dying if she overexerted herself. In many ways her life and that of my husband were miracles that had a great deal to do with my mother-in-law’s determination to employ whatever means necessary to extend her life. As a result she became an expert at pursuing a healthy lifestyle even before such an idea was popular.
I was admittedly bemused when I first saw my-mother-in-law’s kitchen. She always kept a scale for weighing foods at the ready and her cookbooks had exotic titles with recipes from nutritionists and doctors. She was conscientious in recording her intake of salt, calories, cholesterol and such. She was a student of nutrition and an advocate of proper exercise. Sometimes I grew a bit weary of her lectures on how to live, but in retrospect I realize that she was way ahead of her time. She outwitted death and made her doctors’ predictions of her early demise appear to be akin to voodoo. She lived all the way into her late seventies, far past the age that most thought she would attain, and she did so with a sparkle in her eyes and a zest for life that was incredible. She had done everything possible to defy the odds that were so heavily stacked against her, enriching everyone that she encountered in the process. Never once do I remember even an ounce of negativity or lack of faith in her approach to each day. She was truly a warrior.
Now I am doing my best to recall the many lessons that my mother-in-law so patiently taught me. That son that she risked her very life to bring into this world is now facing his own health problems, and as with her there is no miracle cure, but there are ways to help the situation. My goal is to support him as he adopts the very life style that worked so incredibly well for his mother. To that end he and I are both changing our ways, perhaps a bit belatedly, but in the hopes that our efforts will provide us with more time to enjoy this beautiful world together with our children and grandchildren.
Our kitchen now sports a scale for weighing our foods along with an array of cookbooks touting heart healthy recipes. Our larders are filled with fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats and fish. Our treadmill which had become dusty from disuse is churning away. We keep records of every morsel that goes into our mouths and have learned the joys of hydrating with water. We have become as serious about taking care of ourselves as my mother-in-law ever was, and I often feel her spirit guiding us on this new journey of ours.
I have to admit that I have at times been a bit irritated by people who spend so much of their time honoring their bodies with proper foods and exercise. I have rolled my eyes more than once at their focus on health just I as sometimes grew weary of hearing my mother-in-law describe the latest foods or techniques that she had discovered. Now in the moment of crisis I find myself wanting to walk around wearing a sandwich board that urges everyone to eschew their bad habits now. If I could, I would burn down every tobacco field on planet earth. Like Jesus with the money changers I would overturn the tables of candy and fatty foods that tempt shoppers in all of the grocery stores. I would insist that children do as well with physical activities as we ask them to do with mathematics and reading. I have become a fanatic overnight because I have seen what happens when we ignore the common sense notion that our bodies are as important as our minds.
My daughters are fearful that there may be a genetic tendency for stroke that they carry and may have passed on to their children. They worry about what they might do to prevent the kind of health emergency that we all recently endured when my husband had a stroke. I have told them that the solution is quite straightforward, and it was outlined magnificently by their Granny long ago. We must all do our very best to lead healthy lives from this day forward. That means that we are careful every single day of what we choose to eat or drink and how much activity we provide for our bodies.
There are so many wonderful resources in our world today that my mother-in-law never had. We now know much about how to best treat our bodies. I am finding that my husband and I are eating quite well and never feeling underfed or somehow beset upon. There are incredible recipes that use very little fat, salt, sugar or carbohydrates. Vegetables have become our staples and we prepare them in a variety of tasty ways. We are consistently losing the excess pounds that have been stressing our hearts. Our muscles and our stamina are growing stronger. Both of us are developing a kind of glow. It feels good to be on the right track and thankfully many of the people who once annoyed me with their crusades for health are helping me to launch my own odyssey. They are more than eager to help a fellow convert, no matter how late to the game I may be.
Perhaps I’ll do my part by sharing some of my favorite tasty recipes in the future. I’m trying different things and taking notes. The key appears to be in starting with a weekly menu plan, something that I used to laugh at my mother-in-law for doing. Now I understand that having good meals doesn’t just spontaneously happen. It takes a bit of effort that pays huge dividends in the end.
So here I am now, a born again health nut. Who knew that I would come to this? It’s a great feeling actually, and I’m not afraid to proclaim that we should all do ourselves a favor by mending our ways. There are no guarantees in this life, but it won’t hurt any of us to treat our bodies with the respect that proper care and feeding provides. My mother-in-law fought for her life. Now I will honor her by fighting for the lives of all of her descendants who are only here because of her courage and sacrifice. Mea culpa for the sins of gluttony and abuse that I have inflicted on myself and my family. From this day forward things will change.