Remembering a Big Sister Who Struggled with Eating Disorder

I never comprehended the summer of 1970. At age 14, I witnessed my beautiful older sister Margie fading away when she picked me up from overnight camp. My sister whom I idolized was a shadow of herself. For so many years, I had held on to who I wanted her to be. Our lives would later veer off the path into a detour neither of us could have fathomed. Despite it all, Margie and I shared a closeness only sisters understand.

Although physically I could witness Margie’s decline, my heart always wanted the sister I looked up to. I felt cheated not only of losing a sister but of a sister I felt I deserved. At age 14 my world as I knew it turned upside down. Her illness allowed her to function well at times and enjoy a reasonable quality of life; then how quickly the tables turned.

Margie struggled with anorexia and bulimia for 20 years. Forging a courageous battle, the illness took her precious life at age 35.  She braved insurmountable odds and endured tremendous pain and suffering. Through it all, Margie’s brightness shone and inspired many.

I adored Margie. She always cherished me as well. Our age difference of two years cemented our close relationship, true soul mates.  People commented on the resemblance between the two of us.  Margie played the guitar and sang with an angelic voice. I admired her intellect. In junior high, she was the shortest member of the cheerleading squad, a great ice skater, and enjoyed playing tennis.

The role of big sister is one she took seriously, always wanting to take care of me, worrying about me, listening to me, advising me, with her wonderful wisdom and sense of humor. She always sensed what I felt; nothing about me went past her. Margie forever made me laugh.

One summer, Margie age 10, me 8, ventured to Camp Fire Girls camp for two weeks. Overnight camp not Margie’s forte and she became extremely homesick. Seeing her cry made me cry, forcing the counselors to separate us.

Throughout the years, I started several needlepoint businesses which is a hobby that I love. The one I started in college Margie so brilliantly name “Julip” combining my first and last name. Years later when a friend and I started another business in 1987, despite her challenges, Margie knew the importance of this to me, she called to wish me good luck. She probably knew me better than I knew myself.

We joked how from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Margie paralleled the Rhoda character and me Brenda. I called her Rho and she referred to me as Bren. Rhoda plays the older confident sister, married, and Brenda the single sister not as confident. Some of my fondest memories of Margie are moving furniture around in her room, playing the piano as she sang, and snooping for Chanukah presents for that toy we absolutely thought were the cat’s meow that year.

As I opened the door Wednesday night, August 1, 1990, and saw my parents standing there, I knew immediately. No words spoken. The inevitable had come. Margie lost her battle. My beloved sister Margie was gone. That fateful Wednesday evening in August is etched in my mind forever. Just a few days before my father and I talked over coffee and he said to me, “Judy we are going to lose her this time? How may times had she been at death’s door?”

I flung myself on my bed and sobbed. I dutifully made a few phone calls. Most of my new friends did not know Margie and could not grapple the enormity of pain and impact on me. I did not think about me.  I had two young daughters to take care of and what about my parents? A hollow deep lonely feeling overwhelmed me, but no one knew. I put up a strong front and pedaled forward.

My role of taking care of everyone was elevated to a new status with a new burden. I did not comprehend, just marched onward and upward like a dutiful soldier.

One of my favorites photographs is of Margie taken a few years before she died. As she sits on the floor reading to my two daughters, Janie is looking up at her with loving eyes and Amy bending over proudly showing her the bow in her hair. The love of all is evident in the smiles they all share.

Another favorite is at my wedding. Margie and I are hugging and looking at each other with broad smiles holding tightly to each other.

As I skated in the 4th Annual Celebration of Sisters in 2014 with my hair pulled back, an old friend of Margie’s with his eyes welled up commented on how much I resembled Margie on the ice. How elated I felt! I told him that he just provided me the best compliment and a feeling that Margie is always with me.

With Margie’s death so many emotions, layered into so many years of a tragic battle with anorexia and bulimia, many special memories before and during those years of a sister whom I shared a bond that cannot be broken, who knew me better than I knew myself and loved me unconditionally and accepted me for me just the way I am. What an incredible gift to have that.

As I felt alone, Margie died alone.

Margie’s laugh, big brown eye, and gorgeous smile is evident in the pictures and to anyone who met her. She had the gift for gab and could strike up a conversation with anyone. A prolific reader, one of the smartest individuals I knew.

Throughout the years she wrote me numerous letters and cards and the mutual admiration society between us is abundantly clear. Here are some of my Margie’s words to me that I keep reading cementing the sisterly love we always share:

“I love you very much and you mean the world to me.”

“I love you dearly and cherish you.”

“I truly treasure our relationship and feel we are so lucky to be as close as we are.”

“We can always talk and understand each other. We are dear friends aside from being sisters.”

“Sisters are a special treasure you more than most…you are a treasure, a special part of my life.”

As the years go by, I miss her more and more. To have known her was to love her!

 

Judy Lipson

More Articles Written by Judy

I am a sister who sadly lost both my sisters. I lost my younger beloved sister Jane died at age 22 in an automobile accident in 1981, and my older beloved sister Margie passed away at age 35 after a 20-year battle with anorexia and bulimia in 1990. I am the sole surviving sibling. As the Founder and Chair of “Celebration of Sisters,” this annual ice skating fundraiser honors and commemorates the lives and memories of my beloved sisters to benefit The John D. Stoeckle Center for Primary Care Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA. The event is scheduled the first Sunday in November as Jane’s birthday was November 6th and Margie’s November 8th. We celebrate all lost siblings, their legacies as they live on in all of us. Since the inception of Celebration of Sisters in 2011, I have embarked on the journey to mourn the losses of my beloved sisters that had been suppressed for 30 years. The process unmistakably the greatest challenging time in my life proved to be the most empowering, enlightening and freeing. Now that I am allowing my sisters and their memories to return to my heart where they truly belong, I am re-discovering myself, happier and more at peace. I share my love of ice-skating as a skating instructor in the learn to skate programs at the Babson Skating School and Bay State Skating School, and as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Therapeutic Skating Program at The Skating Club of Boston. I live in Boston and am the mother of two grown daughters. It is my goal to advocate for sibling loss to insure surviving siblings are neither alone nor forgotten.

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  • Mary Witkowski says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. So beautifully written, I can imagine you and Margie as young girls whispering to each other, chatting, coming up with names and ideas for things. What a close bond you so clearly both cherish. I see that love when you skate at the Celebration of Sisters event every year. It is an honor to get to be a part of it. – Mary