National Eating Disorders Association

Making Sense of Loss: A Brother's Perspective

Richard Hubbard

Itʼs been a year since my sister Anne succumbed to the anorexia that plagued her life, off and on for nearly 25 years. Iʼve learned a lot about her illness and why she suffered from it for so long. I share my story to reach out to others who have a loved one struggling, or may be concerned about someone in their life, to encourage them to become as educated as possible and be an advocate for awareness about the seriousness of these potentially life-threatening illnesses.

Anne was a teenager when she first developed her eating disorder. She was 16, and the prospect of figuring out what she would do after high school was very anxiety-provoking for her. Anne did not like studying and she wasnʼt exactly eager to become an adult. I think she was afraid that her father would kick her out of the house once she turned 18. It was in this context that her behaviors and mental health began to change.

I noticed that she began to focus a great deal of attention on weight, and most of the people that she expressed her admiration for were all extremely thin. She was becoming quite socially isolated and found a teacher in her school that she connected with. She hoped to one day be like this teacher, and unfortunately while Anne was early in her eating disorder, this teacher often told my sister about the many ways she would diet. At that point, Anne began to mimic much of the strict diet and exercise behavior that her teacher discussed with her. This teacher could not have known that Anne had a vulnerability to an eating disorder and was starting to struggle with a serious mental illness, which is why I’m so passionate about educating those who are in a position to notice signs and symptoms of an eating disorder and encourage people to get help.

Anne was hospitalized when she was 17 and managed to get out after she gained the required amount of weight. The problem was, the underlying contributing factors to the eating disorder had not been addressed. She still felt like she had no future to look forward to without her anorexia. After returning from the hospital, she didnʼt want to start a family, get a job, etc. What would she do without her best friend (and her familyʼs worst enemy)?

Iʼve finally come to understand that when I would try to get Anne in the hospital, she was interpreting it in a way that I did not understand at the time. When I said to her that she needed treatment, she was thinking that Iʼm trying to take away the thing that gave her the most comfort and security in life. She felt like she was nothing without it. It took time to understand that this was part of the disorder, not a choice, and an important reason to continue encouraging those affected to seek professional help.  

As support people for those who struggle, it is difficult to see that there are limits to what we can do because our loved one has to commit to the battle to recover. But, I know that for many people who have won that battle, it was the continued expression of concern, encouragement to get help, and love that helped them on the road to recovery. Looking back, I see that the extent of Anne’s social isolation functioned to keep threats to the eating disorder at bay, and contributed to sustaining her illness over many years. I wish more people had gotten involved in her life, and that she had experienced her real passions instead of having her time and focus consumed by her disorder.

I believe my sister did not want to die. The thing is, she desperately wanted to hold onto something that would eventually kill her. She was scared about how she would live her life without the eating disorder, and I wish someone could have shown her what a successful person she would have been. My sister did not receive adequate treatment, and she needed it to fight the illness. Access to quality care is paramount, and sharing our stories is important for raising awareness about the unmet needs for education and treatment.

Note from NEDA: If you are struggling with the death of a loved one, NEDA's Loss Support Network can help.

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