Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
In this article about the late actress Audrey Hepburn her son recalls the way her early childhood experiences of starvation during World War II forever impacted her life. I doubt many who viewed her from a distance considered her lithe frame to be the result of anything more than the carefully cultivated image of a typical Hollywood starlet, but this recently published interview with her son reveals the depth behind the image.
When I read this story it reminded me of a woman I worked with many years ago who was dying of stomach cancer. Despite her diagnosis, she would eat huge amounts of food and in doing so would end up with blockages that were painful and difficult for her medical team to manage. Because this had become such an issue her medical team had asked me to work with her on the matter.
While doing my ‘initial assessment’- from the high throne of my psychology background- I surmised that the reason she overate was due to her anxiety that if she lost weight she would die. This is a common mindset to see at end of life, especially in a culture such as ours that equates food intake with vitality.
It took less that 5 minutes for her to cut to the chase with me. She had endured 2 years in a concentration camp during World War II. She was the only member of her family to survive. As she told me this story, she was eating. Even as her words tumbled out, she was continuously taking bites of food in…. And as she neared the end of her tale, she raised her fork into the air for emphasis and proclaimed with utter sincerity, “ I am NOT afraid to die…. But I WILL NOT DIE HUNGRY.”
Wow. That was such a stunning moment. Crystal clear, and beautiful and poetic, and so very humbling. My high throne of psychology crashed to the ground around me and I took her hand in mine and I cried. There was such beauty in the way she was triumphing over her past.
After that her medical team changed their focus completely. Gone were the concerns about her bowel blockages and eating behaviors. Instead the only concern was that she remain comfortable so that she could die the way that brought her peace- and she did leave this world with peace in her heart and food in her belly…
She was one of my very best teachers…providing me with the nourishment of wisdom when I never even knew I was hungry.
We all have untold stories. Our untold stories are often our reasons for doing things that the rest of the world may judge. Remember this, and be kind. Always.