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To a parent on a terrible, terrible day

Dear Family,

You’ve opened this envelope after a very bad day. I don’t know how bad, or in what way. But I have talked with families who have faced some pretty awful days… parents whose loved one’s mental illnesses caused the worst thoughts, the worst behaviors, the most misery imaginable. Days when what seems like the only option has closed, or the hope is gone.

Indeed, on these days, the one thing that experienced parents share with one another is: you’re not alone. It’s not a position any parent ever, ever thought they’d face. And yet, we do. And it changes us.

We don’t think that tomorrow, or any tomorrow, will ever be okay. We feel the immense unfairness of it all. We just want to get back to before all this happened. Before we knew anything about eating disorders. Before this awful day happened.

I won’t promise you that it will all be okay. Mental illness is incredibly powerful and there are no promises or magic spells. What there is, what we other parents will open their hearts to share, is the power of love.

Loving someone when they are not able to love themselves. Loving our other family members when they are frustrated and tired and overwhelmed. Loving ourselves, even when we haven’t coped well.

Because it’s hard. And no one warns you, really. People tell us to try, to hope, to put on our oxygen mask, but until you live it you just don’t know how hard it is.

So here is one of the things all this gives us: empathy. We didn’t understand until we came over here to the place we NEVER dreamed we’d be, that those on this side of such experiences understand our pain, our disappointment, our fears. And we know that once we are here we can either turn bitter or turn to others. We can accept the caring of others, and we can give it. We can pay it forward to others in a way we never could have before. Because now we know. We wish we didn’t, but we do.

And: pain can make you try to reduce it in others. So, my advice is this: join those around the world trying to save other families from the same or worse pain. It’s healing. It’s strength. It’s what mental illness will try to rob you of, and tell you doesn’t matter. But giving back and helping others is the best rebuke to this thief of our happiness.  It’s what you would have wanted others to do for you.

And it is why you are reading this now.

With tremendous caring, and deep empathy,


This letter, from Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, can be printed out and given to a family for a day that is unimaginably hard.
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  1. Cathy

    Thankyou, so much of what you say resounds true, I wish it didn’t, I don’t know the way forward, I only know today, one moment at a time is what we’re trying to take, for our beautiful daughyer, to look a whole day ahead is too long,

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