This post is written by Christina Grasso from the NYC Project HEAL Chapter
It is said they we encounter people for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Whether we meet people for merely a short lesson, a momentary rapport, or a friendship that lasts until the credits roll, the relationships we experience have the capacity to build and shape us into the very people we were created to be.
Last month, a dear friend of mine passed away as a result of the very illness that caused our paths to cross.
Alli came into my life 4 years ago, when we spent 3 months together hospitalized for anorexia. We kept in touch but I never saw her after she hugged me goodbye the day I was discharged. And now, I never will see her again. Because at the age of 25, many years of life were ripped from her hands by a merciless disease, and her loved ones must carry on with only memories of her beautiful spirit and extraordinary strength.
There is something indescribable that happens among people who spend time together in hospitals and treatment centers for eating disorders, or any other illness or affliction, I suppose. It forges a bond, a sisterhood (or brotherhood), which transcends time and is unlike any other relationship I have ever experienced.
Maybe it’s because on the day you met them, within the same breath you’d say “Hi, I’m Bob,” or whatever, and continue spilling details of your hard-spoken truth to a room full of peers and this new perfect
stranger, who would more than likely become a dear friend, or a trusted acquaintance at the very least. When facing demons together, these peers become your angels.
Maybe it’s because, in a very short amount of time, you learn to love these people from the inside out – something that does not always happen in this day and age. Author Mary Lou Kownacki said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve
heard their story,” and there could be no truer statement, especially for those whom I have encountered in this way. I have learned to love others not despite but rather because of their differences, their challenges, their perceived flaws, and have subsequently had an easier time turning that same acceptance and forgiveness inward.
Or maybe it’s because these friends are the only ones who truly understand the battle — that facing a plate of food at this stage of the game isn’t justfacing a plate of food. Instead, it’s more akin to jumping out of a plane with a crippling fear of heights and no parachute, or sitting in a pitch-black room full of creepy, crawling spiders and arachnophobia. Recovering from an eating disorder often feels like fighting an amorphous monster in the dark, and these peers, friends become your flashlight.
Alli was definitely that light. Though we came from two very different journeys, we shared a similar experience and she illuminated a dark time with her sparkle.
Despite everything she had endured, she had the most beautiful, megawatt smile and gave unparalleled hugs. Her life may have been cut tragically short, but she fought long and hard. Every morning she got up and punched life in the face. Even in the darkest shadows of her illness she really lived; my God, did she live. She had dance moves that made it seem like she lived “dance like nobody is watching” as her mantra, something that often got her into trouble in a place where even vacuuming is considered excessive movement. She loved owls and making owl noises, and had a wicked sense of humor. She had immeasurable strength to the point where she was almost like one of those blow-up dolls that you punch to the ground and they come flying right back up. But most of all, she loved beyond comprehension and without judgment. Alli was an extraordinary person who left all who loved her with so much more than just heartache.
She may have only come into my life for a season, but the lessons I learned from her will last a lifetime.