My sister Maria
Easter is here, another year. Chocolate, hot cross buns, Easter egg hunts, get togethers, cooler breezes and many other, mostly food related, pleasures await. This Easter marks twenty five years since my eldest sister Maria, died from an eating disorder. Anorexia Nervosa was little known about in the 80’s in Brisbane. I was seven and Maria was thirteen when she started acting weird around food. I remember her passing me Easter eggs and other food scraps. I loved it, she filled me up.
She cherished these special occasions like Easter and Christmas, making elaborate cakes and sweets, doting around food but never eating much of it. Concern about her behaviors began to build. Our bewildered Italian neighbour brought over his super filled smoothies. Turning down his gifts, Maria never indulged in the slightest. Restrictive daily routines were firmly established in her world. She implemented calorie counts, exercise regimes and a consistent withholding of most things enjoyable. It was never ok to let this regime go, even for a minute. She would often stand at the sideboard in the TV room as the rest of us ate dinner on the couch, never relenting into the soft folds of comfort. How could the simple pleasure of filling oneself up with goodness be withheld and dissected into a complex gamble with life?
Hospital stays were many for Maria, her thin frame traversing the corridors of various wards, her home on and off for fourteen years. I remember walking down one such corridor to meet her halfway, on a particular day. Looking and talking silently to each other I asked her what was wrong. She was force fed, bed rested, locked up and exposed to other experimental treatments. I often wonder what that was like for her, a young girl amongst a range of often older mental health patients. Was there any peace there on a good day, a bit of softness in the white walls, a place to rest her head protected from the torment that raged inside?
My sister was arty, finely assembling macramé pieces or paintings with her hands. Where would this ability have taken her, had she of lived?
Her autopsy uncovered an enlarged heart and that her other organs had been affected by the suppression of vital nutrients. The doctor who treated her through the night, on the night she died, was left in tears. Not long before her body started fitting she’d given directions about what food items she wanted brought up to the hospital. Whilst family members went to retrieve these specifics, her slight frame could no longer hold its place in this world, lapsing into unconsciousness. My big sister with the dark hair was leaving.
What would have made a difference to the strength of her convictions, a moment’s pause from the relentless struggle?
Well, I can’t fully answer that right now, been called to Easter, to eat and eat.