The Greatest Gift

by Nerys Parry

My daughter loves Christmas. I know a lot of people love the holiday, but my daughter really really loves it. Carols rank top of her playlist. She starts planning her gifts in November and insists on making almost all of them herself. Hand-built organizers, beaded pillows, bean-filled neck warmers—each of her gifts is both personal and beautiful. Every one is made withkindness, care, and joy.

But for the last two years, her eating disorder has cast a heavy shadow over our holiday celebrations. Her being unable to eat without anxiety turned the family Christmas meals she once loved into torture sessions. The relentless eating disorder voice that kept telling her how unworthy she was made it painful for her to accept gifts; we were robbed of the pleasure that comes with giving, she of the delight that comes with acceptance.

It goes without saying that celebrating Christmas on a hospital ward is just not the same as at home; there’s no crackling fire or scent of pine infusing the room. Still, we did our best to keep what family traditions we could alive. In the ward, my children opened their stockings together, as they’d done since they were young. My husband and I had always been careful to fill each stocking with the same chocolates and gizmos so presents were distributed equally, but since the onset of my daughter’s illness, the contents of each child’s stocking had become remarkably different; there were chap sticks and stickers but no chocolate for my daughter, while my son’s was as jam packed with candy as it always had been. During day passes off the ward, my daughter made great efforts to sit with us during our traditional family meal, even though she couldn’t eat anything with us. She also helped organize family games and activities for the children, laughing hard along with everyone else when my uncle cheated remorselessly on every challenge—and lost every one of them.

But while we did our best to cultivate what fun we could, there were times when the seasonal joy we saw all around us felt unbearable to me; it just reminded me of how difficult it had become for my daughter and our family to fully experience and share in this joy.

But this year, my daughter will be spending Christmas at home. It will be the first holiday in three years that my family won’t be celebrating in hospital. My daughter’s still not fully over her eating disorder, not by any means, but while in her treatment program, she’s been busy making Christmas presents AND huge strides towards recovery. When I think of what she’s had to overcome to get where she is, it still takes my breath away. She is truly an inspiration.
So no matter what gift I find from her under the tree this year (and I’m sure it will be a good one), nothing will come close the gift she’s already given me: hope. It’s one I'd like to share with all of you and with anyone who has lived or is living through an eating disorder. My heart goes out to all of you and your families this season. I wish you strength and resilience. Above all else, I wish you joy.

Happy holidays.