Today, August 10, 2020 is my daughter’s 27th birthday. Wherever her soul is currently soaring, I am confident she is reveling in the limitless joys and wonders in the universe far beyond our comprehension … and in a far greater capacity than her old man. You see, parents like me make some people uncomfortable.
The issue of how we remember and honor our loved ones who are taken by a mental illness, especially on days usually marked by celebration, is incredibly complex and fraught with peril. In part, because a parent’s grief can be boundless and all encompassing.
With regard to that type of grief, Deborah Carr, PhD and Chair of the Sociology Department at Boston University, stated, “The death of a child is considered the single worst stressor a person can go through … Parents and fathers specifically feel responsible for the child’s well-being. And they’re not just losing a person they loved. They’re also losing the years of promise they had looked forward to.”
Fiona MacCullum, a professor at the University of Queensland explained, “The death of a child brings with it a range of different and ongoing challenges for the individual and the family. Everyday questions such as ‘How many kids do you have?’ can trigger intense distress … Some people do find ways of living with the loss. Others struggle to find meaning in life.”
A strong willed and inspired parent of a child who has been taken by an eating disorder has the potential to make the eating disorder community uncomfortable, nervous, afraid and wary. Not just because a parent’s grief can be incomprehensible. We can summon strength and resolve far exceeding anything the community could possibly imagine. And perhaps most importantly, we are the living manifestation of the industry’s failure. Preventing the death of our beloved child or loved one should be the first, second, third and final goal to achieve in the treatment of eating disorders. And yet, with each death of another beloved child, the industry and community are reminded of their collective failure.
In an article published on June 29, 2020, Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, the Founder of F.E.A.S.T. phrased it very well: “The F.E.A.S.T. community lost a child today. It could have been any of us. … The loss is immeasurable. Unfathomable. … It could have been any of us. … We failed this person, as a society and as a field. We failed this family. We failed, but this family endures the loss.”
So, how do we honor and remember our fallen children, how do we take a parent’s grief and sorrow and turn it into a message of hope, faith, strength, resolve and inspiration for others?
Both the eating disorder industry and community are at a loss for responding to this need. After a time, most parents who suffer this soul-crushing loss are shuffled to the side, to not only not be heard but not even seen.
So, how do we remember? How do we honor those who were sacrificed on the altar of eating disorders? How do we let those parents know that their sons’ and daughters’ names will be remembered with respect and love? There is a way.
Well written articles are not enough. Memorial quilts are not enough. Banners are not enough. Remembrance, respect and inspiration demand much more. And from these attributes, grow opportunity.
And what an opportunity eating disorder organizations have before them. An opportunity to heal some of the divisions which exist in the community. An opportunity to recognize those whose lives have been taken respectfully and with dignity. An opportunity that turns collective failure into hope for the future.
An opportunity for the Academy for Eating Disorders, the National Eating Disorder Association, the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals, any of the private equity owned treatment centers, the National Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, any of the other associated organizations.
Any or all of these entities, on their website and social media page could dedicate a tab, a hyperlink entitled, “In Memoriam.” Parents or surviving spouses or children could send in up to a thirty second video clip of their loved one to be posted on those organization’s website. A permanent, positive message of hope for the future. A message of remembrance. A message that we all must do better.
But, our fallen children and loved ones demand and deserve much more.
When a loved one is taken, those who are left inevitably face numerous financial matters. Funeral costs and expenses. Unpaid medical bills. Bills, invoices, demands for payment, each one a grisly reminder that a parent’s pain is only beginning.
Any or all of the aforementioned entities could institute an annual “Profile in Courage” honorarium. Any or all of those entities could grant $10,000 to a family who have experienced the ultimate loss, the loss of a child, a parent, a spouse being taken by an eating disorder. Presented at the national or international conference hosted by these entities, the family receiving this grant would know that in a very open, tangible and loving way, their loss is not going unnoticed. Their loss is not being entirely forgotten. And maybe, just maybe, the healing process for them can begin.
We have failed. And with each death, we continue to fail.
But, that failure does not have to be that which defines us. From the ashes of loss can rise inspiration. From the ashes of despair can rise hope. From the ashes of sorrow can rise love.
Failure is merely the starting point of success. A new path beckons. Let us heed that call.
And … Happy 27th Birthday my beloved Morgan.