Friday, February 6, 2009

It’s Heather’s Birthday

Heather Henderson was born 36 years ago today. Few people have made such an impact in my life—and the lives of many, many others.

For 9 years, I worked for a national nonprofit (now defunct) called Dads & Daughters®. When the amazing Michael Kieschnick and I began building the organization in 1999, we hired this smart, organized, creative and determined young woman named Heather Henderson to help us launch it.

Heather had edited and did marketing for national magazines, been a newspaper reporter and coached gymnastics. This multitalented woman created the Dads & Daughters® website and membership system from scratch, did reams of research, ran the office, did media interviews, and a thousand other things. She quickly established relationships with hundreds of activists around the country, sharing information and promoting this unique organization, dedicated to making the world better through the power and potential of father-daughter relationships. Sometimes it seemed like she did the work of five people!

All the while, she radiated her insight, affection, knowledge, determination, skill and curiosity. And was an incredibly good friend—the kind who is supportive and encouraging, while not being afraid to tell you the truth, no matter what.

One Wednesday morning in the fall of 2000, Heather didn’t come to work, which was very unlike such a punctual, responsible woman. I went up to her house to see if anything was wrong. I found Heather lying facedown on the floor in her kitchen, dead of a heart attack at age twenty-seven.

After eleven years of struggling with anorexia and bulimia, this talented, lovable, and well-loved woman’s heart gave out at a sinfully young age, three days before her sister’s wedding and seven months before her own. Her death crushed her fiancé, family and friends. Activists and professionals nationwide called and emailed our office in shock that such a young and talented person was gone. I get very angry remembering her lifeless body and thinking about how anorexia and bulimia snapped off her life -- and how they take root so readily in our culture.

Serious eating disorders, from bulimia to anorexia, are among this problem’s worst manifestations and may end in permanent health damage or death. Eating disorders have one of the highest death rates of any mental illness. Up to ten percent of the nation’s young women are diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia or some other form of disordered eating. Sadly, Heather’s friends and family have a very human face to put on that cold statistic.

Heather was far more than her eating disorder and her death. It is the rest of her that I remember most—and celebrate—on her birthday today.

I hope that you will celebrate the incredible girls and young women who are part of your life. Always remember that the world can be made better through the power and potential of father-daughter relationships—including yours.

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1 comment:

Julie said...

That is so sad. Beyond sad. I have no words.