Today is my birthday. On this birthday, I think of my father-in-law who has called me for each of my past 24 birthdays and who will not be calling me this year because although I have not fully accepted it, he is no longer here in this world.
My father in law very much lived life on his own terms and it has gotten me thinking about how I do the same, though in different ways.
When you have a daughter with anorexia, there are choices to be made about how you go about living your life. They may not seem like choices, but I believe they are. One choice is to drown in your child’s illness. A few months after our daughter started treatment for her anorexia, we were invited to a parent meeting at the eating disorder clinic before the Passover holiday to discuss dietary considerations and the psychological impact that holidays have on people with anorexia.
We were the “newbies” in the parent group; the other parents had been dealing with their daughters’ anorexia for years. Parent after parent talked about the sacrifices that they made for their daughter; one mother said that she never leaves the house since she does not want to leave her daughter alone. One father said that he and his wife had not been on vacation, just the two of them, even for a night, in ten years since they do not feel comfortable leaving their daughter at home. Yet another mother said that she never accepts social invitations or invites guests to their house, even her own family on the holidays, because her daughter does not like eating in front of other people.
When we left that meeting, I was horrified. I was terrified. My heart was racing and I was in full blown panic mode. I don’t judge their life choices, but I don’t want to follow in their path. Do I have to give up everything pleasurable in my life because my daughter has anorexia? Is this what my life is doomed to become?
The answer thankfully is no, it’s not. There are days when my daughter’s anorexia has more of an impact on my life and days when it has less. Some days I barely feel it while other days it consumes me. When she is doing well and the anorexia is kept at bay, it is infinitely easier to find the joy in life. On those difficult, harrowing days when I am convinced that my daughter’s anorexia is going to win, I think that my world is ending; and yet even on those days, I still search for happiness in life.
I don’t want my family surrounded by sadness or put into social isolation. I refuse to sacrifice myself. I refuse to wallow in my daughter’s illness. I refuse to let it dictate the terms and conditions of my life. There are times when I am appropriately and inevitably brought down by the fact that my daughter has anorexia. The fact that such a beautiful person with such a pure soul suffers with such an ugly illness devastates me. Sometimes it almost destroys me, but I do not let it. It easily could, but I will not let it.
I have learned to cherish and value the good moments in life, even the small ones. I revel in the way that my son can make me laugh, even when (especially when) he is being so incredibly annoying as only a twelve year old boy can be. I am enjoying every moment of planning his bar mitzvah, even though my father-in-law’s absence will tinge it with sadness, because I have learned to appreciate having something joyous to look forward to in life. It is the bright moments that enable me to weather the dark ones.
So here’s to living life on my own terms as my father-in-law lived life on his. I will try to honor his memory by staying committed to family and to education, getting in touch with my generous side (provided that I actually have one–his was huge), spoiling my family, adding sprinkles and chocolate to my challah every once in a while, and eating ice cream at odd hours. When the time comes, if I am even half as good a grandparent to my own grandchildren as he was to my kids, they will be incredibly fortunate.