By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director
I did a podcast recently for ED Matters sharing my personal and tragic experience with suicidality in eating disorders. I was given an opportunity to speak about the loss of my daughter, Gavriella, to anorexia and suicide, to tell people a little about who my daughter was, and to send a message to those listening about suicidality. It was a great opportunity, and I grabbed it.
To be completely honest, I was really nervous about doing the podcast, for a variety of reasons. I am no longer “Judy Krasna, parent advocate”, I am “Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director”, and that role puts responsibility and pressure on me when I speak publicly. Suicidality in eating disorders is intensely personal for me, which is why I find it so important to discuss, but my raw connection to this topic makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to maintain my composure while speaking about my own loss. It takes a lot out of me.
As soon as we stopped recording, the interviewer, who was extremely gracious, empathetic, and kind, said to me, “Wow, you’re tough.” I know that she meant it in a positive way, but that comment has been bouncing around in my brain and nagging me ever since.
I never aspired to be a tough person. I want to be a kind person, I want to be a gracious person, I want to be a patient person, I want to be a tolerant person, I want to be a good person, I want to be a strong person. But a tough person? No, I never set out to be that.
I have been thinking about whether I have always been a tough person or whether life made me that way. My father died of a sudden heart attack when I was 13. My mother died of ALS when I was 27. My daughter developed a raging eating disorder; I spent 13 years ferociously fighting for her life, and I lost.
They call people who have lost a loved one to suicide “survivors” and I have always had a hard time with that term. I feel like a survivor is someone who fought to live, like a Holocaust survivor or a cancer survivor or someone who survived a horrible accident. I, on the other hand, feel like I am a survivor by default. My daughter’s eating disorder and suicide happened to me.
But then I started thinking that maybe I am a survivor; not because my daughter died by suicide and I am left here without her, but because of what I do with that experience.
Through my work at F.E.A.S.T., I am trying to make my daughter’s life, and death, mean something. I am trying to use my lived experience to help other families and to prevent them from having to go through the same loss that we are facing. The way that I see it, I am going another round against my daughter’s eating disorder; because while she is no longer here, I am still standing and still up for the fight. And I don’t know, maybe that makes me a survivor.
I have had these thoughts running through my head and I wanted to reconcile them somehow. I was curious about whether the negative connotation that I have with the word “tough” is a real thing, or whether it is in my own head, so I went to the dictionary and found the following definitions for “tough”:
strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough or careless handling.
able to endure hardship or pain.
And I immediately thought, “Yep, that’s me.” And then I thought that, actually, that is all of us. We are all tough.
When your child has an eating disorder, you need to withstand extremely adverse conditions. The eating disorder makes sure that all parents get rough or careless handling. We are all forced to endure hardship and pain.
We don’t choose to be tough, but we are tough. We are a tough community, but we are also a kind community. We are a compassionate community. We are a strong community. We are a gracious community. We are an extraordinary community.
The fact that we endure hardship and pain, we survive it, and then we walk right back into it to help other people out is what makes F.E.A.S.T. so remarkable. It’s what makes our parent support volunteers so outstanding. It’s what gives our organization its strength and its soul.
So yes, I’m tough. I’m a survivor. I think I’m ready to own that now.
Your words made that lump rise in my throat.
I am in the thick of my daughter’s anorexia. Even saying the word is still awkward for me. So when you talk about owning ‘being tough’ it makes me realize that this path is an evolving one, like all stages of parenting.
Through your determined quest to find meaning in both your long long journey and what I now know of your loss, you are gifting me and other in this community with your humanity, your insight, your experience and yes, your beautiful generosity of spirit.
Your reflections and work make me consider the idea of becoming a FEAST parent volunteer. Perhaps from this inchoate mess I can muster useful stuff to communicate with others.
I can’t thank you enough for your tender wisdom.
Your story could have been our story but thanks to the strength we took from FEAST things eventually turned around and after nine years our daughter’s story is one of hope and survival. The work you do to continue the fight for those going through the pain of an eating disorder like Gavriella, is saving other children’s lives. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity and courage.
Sending love to you and to Gavriella, where ever she rests. So sorry for your tragedy and thank you so much for sharing your struggles and grace so that we can hope to learn from your experience. One never knows how much strength it takes to share your story, imagine it is hard. Thank you for being kind enough to do so!
Thank you for sharing such a personal and incredibly difficult experience with us. Not only does it remind us to be vigilant, it encourages us to persevere.
Thank you Judy for sharing your painful story to help others like me who are in the trenches of ED with our children/young adults. I agree about you fitting the definition of tough, however, I would add courageous to your list as well. It takes courage to digest what happened to Gavriella and then turn around and help others. Thank you so much for all you do for FEAST.
Thank you for sharing your story, Judy. Your vulnerability and strength are both so powerful.
And your work at FEAST helps countless families and undoubtedly saves lives.
Judy, Thank you. Your daughter has tremendous value today as you share her story. Thank you for doing that because I think it will help many people reflect on their own lives and take better steps toward recovery. I wonder if you can share what you would have done differently? My daughter is 14 with anorexia nervosa and suicidal statements. Thank you,
I don’t frame it in terms of what I could have done differently. I did everything that I possibly could have done as a mother. I think it’s important for parents to learn DBT, to know the signs of suicide, to know how to manage suicidality. Honestly, I used Google and You Tube. You Tube has great DBT resources. You can also buy workbooks. Unfortunately, parents need to be resourceful and mostly self-educated, at least in my experience.
Judy, something also the podcast did not describe I believe were things to keep an eye out for regarding suicide. Possible you could point me to your work on that? Thanks
Things to keep an eye out for regarding suicide (Alex’s question): as Judy said, we parents have to rely quite a bit on Google and YouTube, if treatment providers do not provide the required guidance.
So for instance I find this one useful:
8 Gentle ways to Ask Your Child If They’re Considering Suicide: https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/8-gentle-ways-ask-child-220515830.html
And a good one-page template for a plan to discuss with your child if they are suicidal: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Brown_StanleySafetyPlanTemplate.pdf
And if you put “suicide” into FEAST’s search box, there’s some more: https://www.feast-ed.org/tag/suicidality/
And not specifically on suicide but good for skills to calm, to deal with painful emotions:
DBT (Dialectic Behavioural Therapy) offers a wide range of useful tools to help our kids help with emotions, and that’s all over the internet
and I like this site for loads of calming, soothing ideas: https://copingskillsforkids.com/
Thank you Eva for these terrific resources.
Judy – once your eloquent words have helped me in my own healing process while still in the throes of my daughter’s mental illness and ED. Thank you from the bottom of my mending heart.