We lost our daughter last week. I find that term to be somewhat strange. It sounds to me like we took her to a crowded place, like an arcade or a mall, and then we couldn’t find her.
In reality, the term “lost” is pretty apt. I don’t know where my child is. I would like to think that she is in a better place, with her grandparents who love her, free of the torture and pain that her eating disorder foisted upon her. But truth be told, I don’t know any of that for sure. I lost her, in the truest possible sense, and it is ripping me apart.
As a mother, I do not only bear my own grief. Seeing my children totally shattered, sobbing in misery and sorrow, has taken my pain to a whole different level. Seeing my husband reeling with anguish is horrific. Their pain is incorporated into mine. If I could wholly absorb it, and spare them the agony, I would do that in a heartbeat. But that’s not how this works. Everyone has to deal with their own grief, in their own way.
My daughter took her own life. Technically, her eating disorder took her life, but she gave it a little push. We are all experiencing many mixed emotions. We can understand why she did what she did and yet still carry anger. We can be relieved that she is no longer suffering and simultaneously wish that she was still here with us. It’s all unbelievably complicated. But what we feel the strongest is love and loss.
Our daughter was deeply loved. Her eating disorder and co-morbid depression took a toll on our family, that is undeniable. But at the same time, that burden was offset by the amazing person who she was. We loved her with all of our hearts.
My daughter was a person who was always searching for ways to help others. She was kind, wise, giving, and always present for others, even while in the depths of her own illness. She was beautiful, inside and out. She was extraordinary in every way. I can understand why G-d would want her back, but I wasn’t ready to give her up. Twenty-seven years of having Gavriella as my child on this earth was a gift, but it wasn’t nearly long enough.
In Judaism, the first week after the burial of a loved one is called “shiva”, which means 7 in Hebrew. For 7 days, the immediate family observes mourning rituals and is surrounded and comforted by family and friends. During the shiva period, our greatest comfort came from the people who knew Gavriella and who shared their insights and stories about her with us. We heard different versions of the same story over and over again about how much Gavriella gave to those around her, about the impact that she had on them, and the legacy that she left behind.
I didn’t learn much about Gavriella during shiva that I didn’t already know. I was her mother for 27 years (and I will remain her mother forever), and I knew who she was. What I did learn more about is how amazing my other three children are. They are fantastic siblings; they offered their sister support and acceptance when she needed it the most. They continue to protect their sister, even after her death, by making sure that her privacy is respected to the fullest possible extent. They have been there for each other, constantly consoling each other and offering each other support and companionship during the hardest times. And even in the depths of their own grief, they have been caring for my husband and me.
Actually, I have five living children, and not only those to whom I gave birth. My two sons-in-law have been exceptional supports not only for their spouses, but for the rest of the family as well. They have been mourning Gavriella as if they lost a sister; and in effect, they have.
I hesitated about whether or not to write about Gavriella’s death, because I don’t want to scare any other parents out there whose children are affected by eating disorders. To them, I say that our story is not your story. Your story can have a happy ending, you have to believe that. Eating disorder recovery is possible. Please, please hold onto your hope. I don’t want to project negativity. You all have enough of that to contend with. It’s just that I don’t want to hide my story either. We have always been open and honest about Gavriella’s eating disorder; and to me, this is a continuation of that honesty and openness. For us, there was no shame or stigma. Our daughter had an illness that took her life. Others recover, but she didn’t. It’s tragic, and it’s devastating, and it ripped our world apart, and there is no blame.
I do not know exactly how we are supposed to pick up the pieces and put our family back together again. There is going to be a huge, gaping hole that can never be filled. It helps that we have grandchildren who bring tremendous happiness into our lives. They gave Gavriella immeasurable joy when she was alive. During the past few months, when she wasn’t working, Gavriella said that her job was “full time aunt.” Her two little nieces were her whole world. They are asking for her, and we are struggling to find ways to make sure that she remains in their lives even though she is gone.
There is so much that I don’t know, but here is what I do know. I can either focus on what I lost, or I can focus on what I still have. It’s a choice.
I choose to focus on what I still have. There is so much blessing that offsets the pain and grief. There is so much life left in our family. There is so much love. And that is where I am going to invest myself in the months to come; in them, and in healing. That is what Gavriella would have wanted.
The above was originally featured on the F.E.A.S.T. website.