Hope Is a Thing with Feathers*: A poem for the loved ones of a child with an eating disorder

By Zara Neukom BSc, MACP


As you turn away from me

a new bone emerges

reckless, fearless from under your skin.

Skin that seems papery, gossamer

more wing

less flesh.


These days your cheeks have lost their joy.

I remember last summer

when you were queen of soccer

face flushed: pink and shinning.

I think you disappear more each day.


One day after therapy

you looked at me and said

I can’t do this

And inside, my world crumbled

I couldn’t show you how much

I fell apart in that moment.

Instead I said:

I could imagine you don’t want to recover

Because you’re angry

And because life is easier when you can’t feel

And because this culture is cruel

I used the script. I said the words.

They felt like dust in my mouth.


I can’t name the shape

of this despair.

It lives outside lines

outside reality

outside time.

I fear I did this to you.

I fear my absence



did this to you.


It’s June now. You wore a sun hat for the first time

your cheeks have freckles

you laugh with your mouth wide open

I watched you eat a bowl of cereal

with abandon


It’s September.

You just started grade 11. When we went back

to school shopping you smiled when you looked in the mirror.

I know this is still hard. I know you still pinch

the flesh of your hips

when no one is looking.

Sometimes when you get that vacant stare

I realize how much we have both grown.

I have come to love

that blank look, because I know

it’s attached to the part of you

that is still hurting.

The part that needed to disappear because

the hurt was too much.

And then I kneel next to you and hold

that tender part of your spirit.

We don’t need words. We both cry.


When people say hope exists

I used to laugh like hyena

cackling despair and disbelief.

I used to say try watching your child

disappear and then tell me about hope!

Yet these days

hope sounds like: cutlery clanking on dinner plates

hope looks like: how your eyes have turned into oceans

hope feels like: how strong and warm your hand is in mine.

Thank you to all the families who have shared their stories and their hearts. You are an inspiration and hope embodied.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder visit:

https://kelowna.cioc.ca/record/KNA0046* title is borrowed from an Emily Dickinson poem

Written by: Zara Neukom

To book: https://okclinical.janeapp.com/locations/kelowna/book#/staff_member/38

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