Is it a sex blog? A mommy blog? A bitch & moan blog? Um, . . . yeah. This is my place to be totally honest. In my real life, I feel like I'm always lying to somebody about something. Here, I am totally honest. Brutally so. However, no matter what bad things I say about my kids, I adore them and would never ever really, say, sell them on Ebay. The husband, often referred to as Spousehole, is another story. Oh yeah - if you are under 18 (or if you are my husband), please leave now.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Food Is Not A Bad Thing

Have you ever stood by and watched someone die and not done a damn thing to stop it?

I have. It makes you feel like shit. I won't do that again.

A bloggy friend is having some food issues. Not wanting to eat, enjoying that floaty feeling you get when you've gone a few days without food. I know that feeling. I enjoyed it for a while when I was in high school. I got down to 78 pounds at 5'2" tall. In my case it wasn't a plan to try to not eat and lose weight. I just didn't really think about food in the midst of my depression. Eating was not a priority. I got past it, but some people don't.

Let me tell you about Mary.

Mary lived 2 houses up from me, in a house her father inherited from his parents. Mary was a mother of two adult children, divorced from an abusive husband. She cut hair for a living, but was really an artist. She enjoyed creating art in many ways - painting, mixed-media sculptures, crafts, etc. She was a talented, funny woman.

Mary starved to death two years ago while our whole neighborhood looked on.

When we first moved in, Mary was a healthy, vibrant woman. Pretty, active, gregarious, and physically healthy. Thin, but not too thin. Healthy. That changed. About a year and a half before her death, Mary started getting thinner. She got too thin very quickly. Her face looked like a skull with skin hanging off. You could see her hip bones jutting through her pants. Her formerly beautiful skin took on an ashy color. She looked like hell.

We talked about it in the neighborhood. We all knew Mary as a neighbor, but not as a real friend. None of us felt close enough to her to ask what was going on. We would say "Hi Mary, how are you feeling?" or "Are you okay? Is there anything you need?" hoping she would tell us what was going on and take us up on our offers to help. She was always bright and cheery and would tell us that everything was fine, no she didn't need anything. In fact, she took care of an elderly neighbor, taking her shopping and picking up her prescriptions.

She stopped going to work. We weren't sure what was up with that, but didn't want to pry. And she got even thinner. We got more bold about her weight loss, various neighbors telling her that she didn't really look well and that we were concerned about her. Asking if she had seen her doctor recently and discussed how thin she was. A couple of us started buying Ensure and putting it on her porch, anonymously. We figured she was sick, cancer maybe, and just didn't want to tell us. We were concerned that since she wasn't working she couldn't afford much and we thought the Ensure would maybe help her gain some weight back.

We invited Mary to dinner and backyard barbecues. She always declined with a smile. And she got so thin that she was frightening to look at. Although she was only 52, she looked like she was in her eighties. It was heart-breaking.

One summer day I was outside with my baby and my son when Mary's daughter and son-in-law pulled into her driveway. I had lived here for 7 years and had never seen them before. They tried the front and back doors. The son-in-law came running over to ask if I knew if any neighbors had a key to Mary's house. I said I did not and asked the only neighbor who might, the elderly lady who Mary helped. She didn't have a key. I asked the son-in-law if something was wrong, since he looked shaken. He guided me away from his children and mine and said "I can see her laying on the kitchen floor. It doesn't look good." We called 911. Firefighters broke in the back door, but Mary had been dead many hours at that point.

The autopsy showed that Mary's heart gave out due to an extreme electrolyte imbalance as a result of anorexia. Her organs had been starting to shut down as well. One of Mary's sisters told me more about the situation. Apparently Mary had battled anorexia previously and had overcome it through in-patient care. This time she pulled away from her family to try to avoid being forced to seek treatment. Her daughter knew that the anorexia was back and tried to get her mother help. Mary refused. The daughter didn't want to deal with her mother's "drama" and they became estranged. Mary's seven siblings all asked her to at least go to an outpatient counselor and she pushed them away too. Mary had lost her job because she got so thin that she frightened the clients at the salon. She was also so weak that she couldn't stand long enough to complete a hair cut.

Mary's sister said that she didn't think Mary would have accepted help from anyone, including her neighbors. That didn't help our feelings of guilt. We still talk about Mary, about how we could have done more, SHOULD have done more. We know intellectually that Mary's family couldn't even get her to take care of herself and that we as neighbors would likely not have fared any better. It doesn't make us feel any better.

We stood by and watched a woman die.

Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous
Something Fishy
Eating Disorders Anonymous


Stephen Rader said...

A wonderful and powerful post. Thank you.

Project Christopher said...

Wow Bunny, VERY powerful and a great lesson learned. As a former ER nurse I saw people die all the time, but there was a certain detachment to it. I cared deeply for my patients, but in the end, they were still strangers and I had to learn to let it go at the end of the night or I'd never make it.
Seeing it happen to someone you know is worse and I know you feel like you did nothing, but you did do something.
You gave her Ensure, you opened the door for her to talk about it, you did all you could short of busting in the door and force feeding her BBQ from your parties.
In the end, if it's a small silver lining, your story has given me the push I need to say something. A friend of mine is heading the other way from Mary. "Sue" has gotten so heavy I KNOW it's affecting her health and every time I see her she seems bigger and it scares me. I've kept from saying anything because A> I know she's sensitive to it and B> having gone through a slow but successful weight loss myself, I don't want to be the pushy thinner person. But no more. If I love Sue as I say I do, then I have to say something. She doesn't have to be thin, but she needs to be healthy and if I don't say something then... well, we won't find out because I'm going to say somehting so that a slow ride to the worst isn't an option anymore.
Hang in there Bunny! You did what you could and I feel like Mary would know that.

George said...

We have or are becoming an insensitive world. Insensitive to the needs of those around us, even the needs of family members.

This was a horrible yet touching post. Bunny, but I am sure it is one that is repeated thousands of times a day whether it be anorexia, drugs, abuse ... we live in sad times.

Sailor said...

A very moving post, and a nice reminder that in some instances, we are indeed our brother's keepers- or, we should be at times.

Thank you.

sandyshoes said...

I hope your bloggy friend is reading.

The Silent Male said...

Bunny - Everything I read says to me that you didn't just stand by and watch. People asked about her health, people asked her to join in, people tried giving her help anonymously. I think whatever had her (the depression or whichever it might be) had such a tight grip on her that it was causing her to use every trick she could to avoid letting anyone help her.
I know that horrible feeling of watching a death far too well. I know so well that I really couldn't stop it, and I know every day that I wish I had done something, anything to help those two people stay alive until paramedics arrived.

G-Man said...

Talented, compassionate, and very sweet Bunny...
Nicely done....G

SeaRabbit said...

What a sad story... but I don't feel you did nothing as you may think... Some people, and that woman sounds like one of them, are pretty hard to get in touch with... You did what you could do... and you did it the best way you could...

Z Mascota said...

i'm reading.

ZigZagMan said...

There is no shame in this. You as a community expressed concern. You left ensure on her doorstep. You could not have helped.....period. people do strange things, right wrong or indifferent.........I know we differ politically and philisophically, but while I respect the desire to do good...I also respect the leave me the hell alone. :)

Vixen said...

I agree, Sweetie....I don't think you just 'sat by and did nothing'. You feel guilt, bc you think you should have done more. But I think that is uncalled for. You all did do something. Please don't harbor guilt.

I have personal experience and have dealt with this 'issue' since I was 12. It's a very tough, rough road. I hope your blog friend reads this.


Z Mascota said...

i also don't think that you stood by and did nothing. The urge to self-destruct is very, very strong...

Rae said...

Great post. I think us bigger girls of the world tend to think, "God it would be so much easier if I just had the willpower to be anorexic or bulimic," and forget that it's destructive. We have a lady like that that lives...somewhere near me, although I have never seen her at any functions, don't know who her husband is, don't know where she lives, and don't know her name. She walks ALL the time. Especially during the summer she's walking for hours and hours and hours. I've passed her once or twice while out on walks with my dog and she's dangerously thin. Her hair looks like it's straw and you can see every vein in her legs. I think it was a matter of her having a baby and getting too crazy about losing baby weight, because she is often walking her two year old in a stroller while she walks. I worry when I don't see her walking for a few days though, wondering if something happened.

Thanks for the story, it's good for everyone to know about this. And you did good, trying to help, but there really is only so much you can do. If she wouldn't talk to her family, she wasn't likely to talk to her neighbors I would guess.

Desmond Jones said...

"I stood by and watched a woman die."

I don't think so, Bunny. . .

That's the thing with people's self-destructive behavior - there really isn't anything that an 'outsider' can do, if the person herself is set on being self-destructive. And you didn't 'do nothing'; Mary just didn't respond to the things that you and her other neighbors did.

It's tragic, and heart-wrenching, but please don't think for a minute that her death is 'on you'. . .