Melissa Avrin died at age 19 of bulimia. It's a tricky disease, because very often bulimic patients do not appear emaciated or have obvious signs of an eating disorder. Patients commonly die of electrolyte imbalances that occur as a result of vomiting, causing sometimes dangerous or fatal heart arrhythmias. The impact on a family already suffering from trying to help the victim is devastating. Parents are not supposed to bury children and when the cause is an eating disorder as insidious as bulimia, the feeling of failure can be overwhelming.
When Melissa's brother was interviewed, he said that he couldn't bring any leftovers home because "they would be gone in the morning." He shared an experience of going outside and finding his sister going through the trash looking for food, her expression as she looked up, "vacant, so empty." So how does a family cope with this unimaginable loss of life? In the case of Melissa, the mother makes a documentary to celebrate and examine the life of a daughter who died too young. In the documentary, she shares finding her daughter's journal, and reading a page from it which said-
I'll eat breakfast
I'll keep a job for more than 3 weeks
I'll have a boyfriend for more than 10 days
I'll love someone
I'll travel wherever I want
I'll make my family proud
I'll make a movie that changes lives
Melissa could not possibly know that the film would cover her death and probably change lots of lives. Interestingly enough, as a health expert who has worked with people who have eating disorders, the comments shared above, for me, have other meanings.
I'll eat breakfast...might be... I will eat normal foods and portions and not throw up
I'll keep a job... might be...I will embrace stability and my abilities
I'll love someone... might be... I will love me
I'll make my family proud... might be...I will feel like I am a valuable part of my family
For a mother who has just lost a daughter to a cruel and relentless disease, the making of a movie can be inspirational, cathartic and very difficult. Ms. Avrin shares the fact that making the movie made her realize that diseases like bulimia are "underestimated and deaths are underreported." In Melissa's case the disease seemed to start in puberty, a vulnerable time for most kids. And as is typical, the family in the early stages of the disease, was clueless and in denial. The family did ultimately reach out to programs, some while she lived at home; some away from home with varying and variable temporary success.
In the end the movie, still not finished, hopes to raise awareness and remove the stigma associated with eating disorders. It also hopes to make parents realize that a disease like bulimia might be hurting a family member while remaining undiagnosed. For more information, check out www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
(Some information for this blog sourced from The New York Times, A Mother's Loss, a Daughter's Story, April 21, 2010)
Published On: June 15, 2010