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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Devotion Through Dignity:
Hopes for the Memory of Terry Schiavo and Those Who Love Her.
By Robin Supak

Terry Schiavo’s tragically short life and equally tragic long death have touched me deeply. We are both forty-one year old white women, raised privileged Roman Catholic. We both entrusted a man with our lives and married him. The similarity abruptly ends there, because where I have a healthy fifteen year old daughter and a son, she has a fifteen year old abyss.

Fifteen years ago, Terry Schiavo’s heart stopped long enough to suffocate most of her brain. It stopped from a potassium imbalance due to anorexia. She succeeded in starving herself almost , but not completely, to death. She was mostly gone, and as the years went by, became unrecognizable as the stunning, conscious, and conscientiously beautiful woman she once was. The loss of Terry in the prime of her life was tragic, awful, and so unnecessary.

She had a mental disease with physical consequences, and that’s what killed her. The time to treat her malnutrition, to force-feed her, was before she destroyed herself. Anorexia, like alcoholism, is insidious; it doesn’t happen overnight. This illness develops when a person, usually female, feels they have no control over their life. That, combined with low self-esteem and the positive reinforcement that comes with being thin and looking “good,” can be fatal. The guilt the family feels must be overwhelming, but protracting her death is a selfish salve for not having been able to help her when she really needed it.

It is time for her parents, picketing Christians, and the governor of Florida to let her go. It is time to count their blessings from her life, and be grateful they get to say goodbye at all. Fortunately, Terry wasn’t vaporized beyond DNA recognition at the World Trade Center. She wasn't washed away in a tsunami, and she didn’t vanish from her bedroom during the night. Everyone gets to kiss, hold, and say goodbye to her. For that, they are so very fortunate.

If well meaning people want to honor her life, they should share her story, and let others learn from it. Start a foundation in her name. Speak to girls in schools and groups about the dangers of under-eating/ over-dieting. Show them the pictures of Terry at her gorgeous prime, and tell them she didn’t find herself attractive enough. Next, show a picture of her at the last of her life, her head floating and grinning like a sad, ironic bobble-head doll, a way she would never have wanted herself remembered.

Her family and community ought to, at last, honor the only major adult commitment Terry was able to make on her own before she was lost: marrying Michael Schiavo. If marriage is really sacrosanct, demonstrate that. Respect the wishes of a wife implied purely by virtue of marriage. If she was truly a loving person, she’d want her family, her husband and parents, to move on, certainly after fifteen years.

Fortunately, Terry Schiavo was devout. She grew up believing there is a special place in the kingdom of heaven for her. There, she will be free from the constraints her body holds on her, and set those that love her free to go on living and loving, as well. Death is a part of life, and so it is, however reluctantly, a blessing.

If we honor that eternity some might call the afterlife, then these good 'christians' should let this woman make this journey. To leave her languishing in a world in which she cannot participate is a selfish request at this point. As much as I miss my mother now, I revel in the fact that she is free of her pain and suffering that once consumed her life. I envision her looking down on me from heaven and proud of me. She would not want me to spend my life crying over her and stuck in that place that I was in at 13. And I am certain that Terri Schaivo would want that for her parents. and her husband. It is never easy to let a loved one go. But the longer you wait, the harder it becomes. Heaven is a better place to be that where she is now.
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