Last week, in commemoration of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Walden Behavioral Care’s Waltham location held a “Keep Hope Alive” memorial event in the reception area of the sites inpatient units to honor patients who had been treated at Walden and passed away due to complications of their eating disorders. The event was organized by Terri Eaton, director of expressive and milieu therapies, with the help of her expressive arts team and Walden’s marketing staff. Attendees included family, friends, and loved ones of those who died, patients from the hospitals inpatient, residential, and partial hospital programs, and hospital staff.

The ceremony included opening remarks from Dr. Stuart Koman, president and CEO of Walden Behavioral Care, poetry readings by a parent who lost a child to an eating disorder, someone who was in recovery from an eating disorder, and a Walden intern.

The highlight of the event was the candle lighting ceremony.  A table set up in the front of the reception area displayed several electric candles, each one representing someone who had passed away.  Terri welcomed the family and friends of those being remembered to step forward and switch on a candle for their loved one after she read their name out loud.

When there were no more attendees to represent the others who had passed, Terri invited anyone to step forward and switch on a candle. The last candle had no name, but was there to hold the memory all of those who have struggled with eating disorders and have lost their battle.

The inspiration for the event came from an altered book, a book that was reused to create a piece of artwork. Terri started the book, now called “Walden Remembers Marked in Ink,” after learning about the death of a man who had been treated at Walden. Today, the book, created in collaboration with staff, family, friends, and patients is filled with poetry, pictures, song lyrics, and articles of Walden patients who have passed away.

“When Terri asked me if I wanted to create pages in memory of my friend, I told her I really wanted to, but I would need her help,” said a former Walden patient. “Since her passing, I’ve added a couple of pictures, a short article about her church dedicating a nursery to her, and the lyrics from Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer,’ which was played at her funeral. Last year, I wrote a poem on the third anniversary of her passing,” she said.

After deciding that the event would be modeled after the book, Terri and her staff started collecting artwork and pieces of writing created by former and past patients about living with and recovering from eating disorders. The works were mounted on the walls of the reception area of the hospital’s inpatient units and where accompanied by the names of the artists and the descriptions of the pieces.

The largest and most colorful piece of artwork was a Declaration of Independence, affirming the right to recover from eating disorders. There was plenty of space on the bottom for attendees to sign the declaration. The mother of a young woman who was memorialized at the event signed her daughter’s name as a teenager would – “My daughter was here!” – and in parentheses, an explanation that the girl was once there, but now her mother had to sign for her.

At the conclusion of the memorial, family, friends, and patients where given the opportunity to meet with clinicians and process any emotions that may have come up during the memorial.  For family and friends the memorial gave them a chance to remember their loved one.  For clinicians it reminded them of the reasons they work so hard every day to help patients recover.  For patients, the memorial reminded them that while eating disorders can be lethal, with hard work and hope recovery is possible.

By: A Former Walden Patient