Karen’s life had ‘only just begun’

Karen’s life had ‘only just begun’

Karen Carpenter died 30 years ago today, at age 32. Her life had only just begun when an eating disorder took it away.

I did not know Karen personally but felt a great affinity with her. We were born in the same year, 1950, and we both developed the eating disorder illness, anorexia nervosa. Sadly, Karen died from her illness, while I struggled on, eventually ‘beating’ it at the age of 55.

Today, at age 62, I know what it is like to experience peace and contentment – feelings yearned for during the long eating disorder illness. I know what it is like to be in a happy, loving relationship. I know the joy of being a mother and grandmother.  I know the joy of being me, the true, real me.

Karen missed out on all of this. I feel very sad for her and all sufferers who are struggling today to beat the horrid eating disorder bully that torments their mind. I wish to give you all hope. I beat the bully and you can, too. You cannot do this alone, however, so reach out to recovery guides you know deep down you can trust; be brave, and allow them to show you the way.

Parents – especially the dads – often say to me that the first time they heard about eating disorders was when Karen Carpenter died. They associate her name with ‘anorexia’ but they go on to express their shock when, years later, they learn their own child has developed the same illness.

Aussie dad, John O’Callaghan, who I look forward to meeting at our first national eating disorder conference for families, carers and sufferers in Brisbane, in May this year, recalls being very saddened by Karen’s death. He has penned this poem in memory of her:

Ode For Karen Carpenter

Long ago and so far away.

Haunting words we all heard

you sang through our heavy radio

in those old half forgotten days.

A fractured princess no one saw

your voice rung out in giant waves

piercing, entering our virgin hearts

a river of joy and sadness ~

the sound we did crave.

You sang the sweeping lyric of others

threading your soul between the lines,

hiding secrets behind mother, brother

swooning us all like old Grange wine.

Your song echoes to this day

like an empty radio station,

your heart, life, voice collapse

Friday at your mother’s home

when the demon cut you down

upstairs, the final attack ~

failure you felt and all alone.

Shall we sing of such love

loathing ourselves behind the song?

Know the silent love in a lyric word

it is a sound no radio has ever heard

only this music makes hearts strong.

Ambushed, I did hear you today

in some descending hotel elevator,

an old haunting darkness closes in

like a rushing Summer night storm

and I pull against your gravity

to quickly walk away.

So long ago, so far away.

(c) John O’Callaghan, 2013

Yes, Karen’s life was over too soon. The lyrics from The Carpenters’ song We’ve Only Just Begun hold a special message about relationships – one we can apply in advocating awareness of eating disorders:

We’ve only just begun to live,
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we’re on our way.
And yes, We’ve just begun.

Before the rising sun we fly,
So many roads to choose
We start our walking and learn to run.
And yes, We’ve just begun.

Sharing horizons that are new to us,
Watching the signs along the way,
Talking it over just the two of us,
Working together day to day

And when the evening comes we smile,
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow,
And yes, We’ve just begun.

Indeed, in many ways, we have only just begun. The causes of eating disorders remain largely a mystery. But thanks to amazing researchers, we know a lot more today than 30 years ago. The best way to fight this illness is to arm ourselves with knowledge and skills. And love. Anorexia, like cancer, is not confined to pop stars or wealthy white girls. It can develop in any child. We must all be aware of this, look for the symptoms and act quickly when we notice them. An eating disorder will not ‘just go away’. It is the most serious of all mental illnesses. Remember this and seek help if you, or someone you care about, is having difficult eating regular, nutritious meals.

This is the best way we can avoid more tragedies of lives lost too young, like Karen. This is the best way to honour those who have lost their lives to eating disorders, and to honour those who are suffering today. Let’s aim at helping young lives begin.

From Wikipedia:

Karen Anne Carpenter (March 2, 1950 – February 4, 1983) was an American singer and drummer. She and her brother, Richard, formed the 1970s duo Carpenters, commonly called The Carpenters. She had a contralto vocal range,[1] and her skills as a drummer earned admiration from her peers, although she is best known for her vocal performances of romantic ballads.

Carpenter suffered from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder which was little known at the time. She died at age 32 from heart failure caused by complications related to her illness.[2] Carpenter’s death led to increased visibility and awareness of eating disorders.[3]

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