Eulogy June Alexander for Anne Edwards
I love being part of an eating disorder family, comprising people around the world who have experience of eating disorders and who understand and support each other. Anne Edwards is a member of this family. After a long struggle with pulmonary fibrosis, Anne died this past week. In October 2016, Anne invited me to pen her eulogy, so she could read it too. Today, I share this tribute with you:
I ‘met’ Anne in 2014 through an amazing set of serendipitous moments. Our friendship developed over the Internet, through email communication. I live in Australia and Anne lives in the USA yet immediately we shared a strong rapport, trust and friendship. We had both experienced an eating disorder, were similar in age and shared a strong Christian faith; we also both loved nature, and family and friends, and were passionate about writing. Writing had been a survival tool for each of us during life’s challenges. Where as my creative focus was prose, Anne’s was poetry. We complemented each other beautifully. We have ‘known’ each other a comparatively short time, but we each know our friendship is for a lifetime. I feel honored that today Anne has invited me to write a few words as a eulogy. In inviting me to do so, she asked me to be sure and mention how much she loves the butterflies, which are her favorite thing, together with the ocean, the dolphins and the whales. She has also suggested I write soon, as she would like to read the words too. Anne is very special to me, so I am writing my memory for her today.
So how did Anne and I get to ‘meet’?
I was writing a book, Using Writing as a Therapy for Eating Disorders – The Diary Healer, and had posted a blog on my website, inviting diarists and poets, who had experience of an eating disorder, to get in touch. Many people responded, but ultimately I decided to feature one poet, and this was Anne. Kathy Cortese, the co-publisher of the annual Gürze/Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue, had published several of Anne’s poems and provided an email introduction with Anne. I was immediately drawn to Anne’s poems because they wove a narrative through the development of an eating disorder, describing the initial disconnections of and with the self, and then the re-connection of self with body throughout the healing process. The difficulty was deciding which poems to exclude. While the poems of others also delved deeply and presented fresh and graphic insights on particular aspects of the illness experience, I found that asking myself ‘do other poems express this as well as Anne does?’ was helpful in selecting poems and verses for publication. Besides describing the challenges of living with the illness, Anne’s poems also encapsulated the healing process and were ultimately hopeful.
I feel the best way to honor Anne’s life, is to share some of her creative gems which, together with further examples of her beautiful works, appear in The Diary Healer. Here they are, in no particular order, but relevant, I feel, to the journey Anne now prepares for and bravely faces:
“If you really want to know me, read my poems, because this is my soul.” – Anne
Anne describes writing poetry as, literally, her heart and soul coming through her pen. Diary writing allows her to ‘let it all out’ and that’s good and necessary, too, but it lacks the metaphors, the emotions, the caring, love and even anguish that she can externalize and express in her poetry. For Anne, creating lyrical and narrative poems counteracts the voice of the eating disorder more effectively than prose:
Expressing these things in poetry has brought out the self I really am, apart from the eating disorder. My poetry has grown and changed as I have. It has helped me to realize I am not useless and that realization has assisted my healing. Through the process of writing I stopped hating myself. Now my poetry has evolved to become more about caring and wanting to touch and help others than just about me.
Anne was 39 when she developed an eating disorder and 46 when she got help in recovering from this serious illness. She had always liked poetry, which she describes as ‘like painting a picture, only with words instead of watercolors or oils or something else’, but before the onset of her illness, Anne had not written for years.
She wrote the poem Precious Stranger shortly before entering a treatment center. At that time, she did not realize the extent of her illness, but:
Some deeper part of me must have flowed through my writing telling me there was a ‘me’ – the real Anne – still inside, a ‘me’ bigger than the eating disorder, a ‘me’ that could be reborn and live apart from the eating disorder. There is a precious stranger inside anyone who struggles with an eating disorder.
So poignantly familiar.
Through my heart.
My mind searches,
Closes the chasm.
Once a part
Of my being.
Across eternity return
Anne penned A Voice after ‘graduating’ from inpatient to day patient.
I was sitting on the sofa in my apartment when it hit me . . . I have a voice and it can be heard! This was wonderful to me because I had never felt free to speak my feelings. Now I was both speaking and writing them. I want everyone to know that and tell them . . . “You have a voice. You are important!” – Anne
Ebb Tide became a major marker on Anne’s recovery path:
“I realized that, while friendships made in treatment were moving on, others would take their place – and that’s how life is, always moving. Realizing this alleviated my sadness.”
People come and go Into my life,
Touch it deeply,
Then like the ocean waves,
Leaving me as empty as the beach.
But other waves
Come and go,
Taking bits of sand, shells, debris
Always loving caress
Of the waves.
Souls touching souls
Smiles and hugs through tears
Sharing the hope,
While writing poetry is helpful to Anne, so is the experience and joy of inviting others to read her works. Anne has found that sharing her poetry helps to strengthen self-understanding, and helps others to understand her, leading to mutual enlightenment of relationships. In the same way the diary works for others, Anne’s poetry adds to the discovery of her own phoenix.
Thank you, Anne, for sharing your love of life and of poetry with me, and with thousands of others. Your caring and courage nature, your generosity of heart and your wisdom are preserved in your poetry and will live on for others to enjoy and be inspired by for generations to come.
Through your writing, you will always be a beautiful orange butterfly!
The title of this entry comes from Anne’s final letter to me in May this year.
Anne loved for me to share pictures of the seaside and ocean, including this favorite. Rest in peace, dear Anne.