Trigger warning: Article contains themes of eating disorders, self harm and suicide. Read this personal story about a young woman coming to terms with her grief.
Read Time: 4 Mins
This is a blog which I have wanted to write for a long time, it is a difficult one to write but I believe it is important to share my story. I have had several experiences of grief, each of them has been different but at the same time they are all intertwined. I lost my mum when I was 6 years old to an eating disorder. I have few memories of her but from the ones I do and from stories from family members I know she was a loving and caring mum. She loved her job as a paediatric nurse, she was passionate about caring for others.
At such a young age, I found the concept of death difficult to understand, I believed death was temporary. Despite my dad telling me and reading me children’s books about death or when someone dies. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been to tell a 6 year old child that her mum is not coming back. I remember sitting in the back of the car looking out for my mum in case it was all a mistake and she had just gotten lost. I think it took a couple of years for me to fully understand that death is permanent. I wasn’t aware of the circumstances around my mum’s death until I was around 16, I understand why I wasn’t told but it was odd when my friends asked how she died and I would say that I didn’t know. I’m not saying I should have been told as a child but it is the stigma around mental health which is the reason I didn’t know until I was older. It is difficult to accept death without knowing the cause.
I often felt alone and that I was the only child that had lost a parent, it wasn’t until my late teens that I started to meet others my age who had lost a parent. In primary school I was in a small group called rainbows for children who had experienced loss though divorce, death etc, although I was the only one who’s mum had died it was hugely helpful for me to have that space to talk and it helped me understand my emotions. After that it wasn’t until I was 23 that I sought counselling for my grief, after losing my Nan to cancer and a friend to a hit and run. I have had counselling before, but this was different, it was at Child Bereavement UK who offer support children and young people up the age of 25, parents and families when a child grieves or dies. I don’t know what was different about this, I think it was that it was that it was focused on grief as a child and they had that expertise. It gave me the opportunity to talk through how I was feeling and process what had happened. You never really stop grieving and there isn’t a time frame on grief but having this space to talk made it easier to manage.
Although I don’t want to remember her for her illness and mental health challenges, I do believe that by writing this I can raise awareness of both eating disorders and my own grief journey. When people ask me how my mum died, I like to be honest, there is still a lot of stigma around mental illness, but we need treat it as an illness just as we would with any other physical illness. My mums eating disorder was a part of her, but it was not her whole identity. I know some will think that as she died from anorexia, she killed herself, but it’s not as simple as that. We wouldn’t say that about someone who died from a physical illness. I know she fought, and family and friends fought with her, she was also a recovering alcoholic and gave up before I was born which takes an incredible amount of strength. I do believe things have improved since she died in 2003, there is more awareness and support, however there is still a long way to go.
While writing this blog I noticed the absence in resources and support for those grieving for someone who died to an eating disorder or even any mental illness. There is some information for death by suicide which is a good step forward, but we know that people’s experiences of grief will be impacted by the circumstance of the death and relationship to the person, so why is there not more information on this? Especially since eating disorders have the highest death rates out of all psychiatric illnesses. Grief isn’t a straightforward process, we must take into account all of the intersecting factors that impact on the grieving process such as circumstances of the death, relationship to the person and cultural background (Mevonne, 2019).
This blog was written by one of our community members.
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