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I Miss You 

      Whatever I arrogantly thought I knew, I could never have really understood


used to be close. There may have been ten years and five siblings between us, but everyone said we were the most similar. We thought the same way, laughed the same way, and, as our brothers took pleasure in pointing out, chewed our food the same way.

But then, shortly after I married, an eating disorder took her, and we weren’t the same anymore. Didn’t think the same way, because her mind had been hijacked. Didn’t laugh the same way, because she didn’t laugh very much at all. And definitely didn’t chew the same way, because she ate even less than she laughed.

They explained it to me. An eating disorder is a mental illness; she didn’t choose to be like this. As her family, we have to be as supportive of her struggles as we can, and do our part to help her battle the demons.

I didn’t think I needed them to explain anything. I thought I knew enough; it’s been talked about so much.

But I was wrong. Reading about it in all those articles and stories is different than watching someone live with it firsthand.

Whatever I arrogantly thought I knew, I could never have really understood.

I knew that the eating disorder was a monster that would take over her brain. But I didn’t understand that it would seize more and more, until its control was so complete that the sister I once knew no longer existed at all.

I knew that The Battle Against Food would become the focus of my sister’s life, but I didn’t understand that it would be the absolute sum total of it. That activities she used to enjoy, like getting together with friends, doing her schoolwork, and playing with her nieces, would no longer matter at all. All that concerned her were things like figuring out ways to skip lunch or exercise some more or hide the two percent bottle of milk so that nobody could tell her to drink it.

I knew the disease would take a toll on my parents and keep them from having any peace of mind. But I didn’t imagine they would age five years each day, that the sparkle in my mother’s eyes would disappear, that the rapid appearance of my father’s white hairs would be rivaled only by an equal number of worried creases etched into his forehead.

I knew about the physical dangers, about how badly it would affect her health. But I didn’t envision the brittle nails, the white, white skin, the eyes sunken deep into a pale face. I didn’t picture bumping into my sister in the street one day, after not seeing her for just two weeks, and not recognizing her. I didn’t realize that her speech would become slower, her movements weaker, as though she was 80 and not 18, because her body just didn’t have the energy anymore.

I knew that even though she was the one with the disorder, her suffering would affect the entire family. But I didn’t envision the many simchahs my parents would have to miss, or the summer trips that were canceled because she had been admitted yet again to another hospital or facility. I didn’t picture the tension at what had previously been a happy family dinner table. I didn’t realize how often my littlest sister would have to hang out at my house, becoming my surrogate daughter, because her own parents were too busy dealing with crisis after crisis to properly enjoy their youngest child.

I knew my parents would need to tap into endless reservoirs of patience and love to continue to support my sister, and I knew they would. But I didn’t envision that I would also need to, or how hard it would be for me. How I would sometimes feel so angry at her for destroying everything. For destroying our parents, for destroying her own life. I didn’t realize how badly I would want to shake her, to tell her look at what you’re doing to yourself. And the terrible guilt that would follow, because I know it isn’t her fault. This nisayon was given to her, and she’s fighting as well as she can.

I knew that throughout it all, I would love my sister. But I didn’t realize that because I love her as much as I do, it would hurt so much. I want her to have a rich Yiddishe life, to fulfill her potential, to be happy. It hurts that the monster won’t let her care about wanting those things too.

And throughout this journey — through everything I knew would happen and everything I discovered as it happened — I still remember the little sister I used to have, and I daven that she’ll come back one day. The aunt my nieces adored. The girl who would jump on the couch with a fake microphone and sing her heart out. The girl who would crack jokes at the Shabbos table that made everybody laugh. The girl who would bake cookies with her friends every Sunday and lick all the icing while nobody was looking.

As I stop by my parents’ house to welcome her back from yet another hospital stay, I look at her, this ghost with vacant eyes, and all I can think is how much I miss my little sister.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 814)

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