I remember the day that we made the decision we could no longer adequately care for our son at home. That decision should have been made long before it was, but as I have said in many other posts, we deluded ourselves as much as he did. I remember feeling that we had failed. He felt very abandoned when he was admitted and his thinking was quite distorted. I have heard the same things over and over discussed in support groups by grieving parents who are devastated at the anger and distortions that their loved one expressed at being admitted inpatient. I wish I had put something in writing for my son; something he could continue to have referred to when he was feeling so alone and angry in the hospital.
Caregivers go through their own grief, anger, and feelings of abandonment when they have to make this decision. They often feel guilty, worthless, failures, and it isn’t easy to know how to respond to the understandable outpouring of anger and desperation of their loved one. I know I didn’t know what to say. If I had put something in writing to my son, it would have looked like what follows. I hope that parts of this resonate and can be of value to those caregivers just beginning their eating disorder journey.
I understand how hurt and angry you feel right now. Being on an inpatient unit with people you don’t know and rules and routines you didn’t request must be very frightening and lonely. I can understand that you feel cast aside and abandoned. I understand how, in your eyes, it appeared that your father and I just got rid of you, that we moved you out so that our lives could return to normal. I can certainly see how it would seem that the rest of the family can sleep at night and relax now that you’re not living here. I would imagine that, to you, it would appear that a huge burden has been lifted from us now that you are not here. The truth is that there is truth in some of the things you are thinking and feeling, but not for the reasons you imagine. Let me take a minute to tell why.
We have watched you starve yourself for a long time, too long really. The decision to go to an inpatient unit was delayed longer than I believe it should have been. The reason for that was because we wanted you here with us; we wanted you to recover in an environment with people who love you. An inpatient unit was scary to us too. The truth is that the staff on the inpatient unit is now part of our team; they will work together with us to help you recover. You have not been abandoned because we will be working together with the staff in family therapy and we will be visiting often. They will teach us how to continue to help you.
Our lives are anything but normal without you here. While it may appear to you that we will just return to the life we had before you got sick, nothing could be farther from the truth. There is an empty feeling every single time I walk by your bedroom door. Your laughter is noticeably absent when funny stories are told or at the antics of your brothers and sisters. Your dry sense of humor and the unique way you tell a story echo all over this house. It is very difficult to see your empty chair at mealtime and know that you are having your meals without us. The rhythm of the family is out of kilter without you right now.
You are correct, in a way that we sleep at night and can relax now. There was no sleeping at night worrying that you were exercising while I wasn’t looking. There was no sleeping at night when I wasn’t sure if you would still be with us in the morning when we woke up. Watching you starve and struggle over meals was anything but relaxing for any of us. We are human and subject to the same human frailties that you are. We couldn’t continue to function without sleep; we couldn’t work and earn the money necessary to provide for the family if we were exhausted; we could not stay healthy and care for you and your brothers and sisters; and most of all we could not continue to ensure your safety here at home. There was no lack of desire; there was just the simple fact that we are human. Your admission to the inpatient unit only means that we sleep differently now. Yes, we are not physically up at night, but you are in our dreams and knowing you are not in your bed down the hall leaves a terrible void when we turn out the lights. The anticipation of seeing your face the next day during our visit makes the darkness seem less dismal. The thing that brings the most peace to our sleep, though, is the that fact that we know you are safe and will return to us.
Yes, there is relaxation during the day, but not the kind you imagine. It is a more of a relief, a relief that someone who is more qualified than we are is making sure that your body is getting the nutrition it needs. It is a relief that you are not able to over exercise. It is a relief that staff who is trained and qualified to help you recover is watching and taking care of you now. It is a relief that we are finally on the road to restoring your health and beating this disease. It is a relief that I don’t have to be so frightened you won’t wake up in the morning because I just don’t think I could do without you. It is the relief and the hope that when you return home, I may have that boy I remember so well before the eating disorder back our lives. The biggest relief, though, will come when I know you feel relief from the eating disorder. A mother is only as happy as her saddest child.
No family member is ever a burden. I know that right now you might not believe that, but you are just going to have to accept my word for it if you don’t. Illness is part of the human condition; we are all subject to it and none of us will escape it. Right now is your time and you are just as worthy of care as anyone else in this family. There will be a time when it is another family member and you will be called to help be the caregiver and I am confident that you will rise to the challenge.
You are not alone; you are just in a different environment. It is just for now; not forever. We are all a team and now we have more eyes and hands helping us out. We love you more than you could ever imagine and it was because of that love we put you in the safest place we knew; again, just for now.