By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director
Tomorrow marks one year since my daughter Gavriella took her own life after a fierce 13-year battle with anorexia. Even after a full year, it is impossible for me to wrap my head around the harsh finality and the immense depth of our staggering loss.
For so many years, I was wrapped up in my daughter’s illness; I was constantly worried about her physical and mental health, and I was fully engaged in fighting against her anorexia. Consequently, I now realize that I lost some insight about who my daughter was. This past year has given me the ability to see Gavriella without the shadow of her eating disorder, which has been somewhat healing for me.
Gavriella is a triplet. She was always the leader. Even as a young child, Gavriella took care of her sisters. She had what seemed like endless talent, and she was brilliant.
Most of all, Gavriella was unfailingly kind. She was the type of person who was always looking out for those who were weaker than she was, for those who didn’t have friends, and for those who needed help.
Gavriella had endless potential. She could have done anything, been anything, but every option was taken away from her by her eating disorder. This made me feel like she left this world without leaving a legacy, without having made an impact, which only compounded my grief.
Until her death, I had considered the time that Gavriella spent in inpatient eating disorder treatment settings to be a waste of her life. Gavriella had so much to give this world; she had so much potential to change lives, and all of that was totally blown because she spent so much time in inpatient treatment, where her functionality and the ability to use her infinite gifts and talents were severely limited. Or so I thought.
Throughout the traditional Jewish shiva week of mourning, we received visits, calls, and messages from so many people who were with Gavriella in different eating disorder treatment settings over the years, and who described how critical she was to their recovery. They talked about how she encouraged them to embrace recovery, about how she was so supportive during their journey, and about what a wonderful friend she was to them. I realized then how much good Gavriella was able to do, how much of a positive influence she was, how many lives she potentially saved, how many people’s recovery she aided, and how strong and special she must have been to have done all of that while being so severely impaired by her own illness.
I came to the realization that Gavriella did leave a legacy. Every person with an eating disorder who she befriended, supported, helped, and guided who goes on to live a full life will carry part of Gavriella with them always. My daughter is no longer here, but her impact lives on.
So much of Gavriella’s life was spent in pain, struggling against her eating disorder and her depression. A different person would have said, “I have enough on my plate, I am having a hard enough time dealing with my own challenges, I don’t have the capacity to help others”, but that wasn’t Gavriella. She was determined to have a meaningful life, despite the hardships that she encountered. She wanted to be productive, to do something with her life. Her illness kept getting in the way, and she kept trying to overcome it, to push it to the side so that she could live a life with purpose.
During shiva, people told us that we must have set a wonderful example for Gavriella considering what an extraordinary person she was; but honestly, I think it was the other way around. Gavriella is the one who set an example for me.
After Gavriella died, I was torn about whether to continue on the path of helping and supporting other families of people with eating disorders. Doing so would inevitably stir up difficult emotions and painful memories for me. I was entitled to step away and pursue other endeavors. After all, I was deeply steeped in the pain of my grief. It was totally understandable that I wouldn’t be in the condition to help others, or that I wouldn’t want to.
After thinking it through, I realized that I too am part of Gavriella’s legacy because she taught me by example that you can be there for people who need you despite your own suffering and that you can help others even if you are experiencing your own pain.
I struggle every day. Grief can feel like trying to breathe without oxygen. Like my daughter, I do my best not to allow the hardships in my life to interfere with my sense of purpose. Like my daughter, I feel the irony of helping others achieve what you yourself cannot. My child will never recover, but I will do everything in my power to make sure that yours does.
Doing this work keeps me connected to my daughter; not because she had an eating disorder, but because it personifies the code by which she lived her life. Help others, always.