Ellen Maud Bennett was only 64 years old when she passed away on May 11, 2018. Just days before, she was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. She chose to fill her final days with "humor, love, death bed edicts and exacting demands," according to her heartfelt obituary. Ellen's funny personality shined through in this last tribute to her. She chose the photo for the obituary herself, which was taken just one week before her death. "She chose it for her obituary because as she said, 'I look so good for someone almost dead!'"
Though Ellen kept her spirits and humor up during her final days, she wanted to make sure she shared one final, important message in her obituary. Towards the end of the remembrance, it reads:
A final message Ellen wanted to share was about the fat shaming she endured from the medical profession. Over the past few years of feeling unwell she sought out medical intervention and no one offered any support or suggestions beyond weight loss. Ellen's dying wish was that women of size make her death matter by advocating strongly for their health and not accepting that fat is the only relevant health issue.
Ellen's obituary did not go into much detail about her own personal experiences with fat-shaming in the medical industry, however, her few words on the subject were enough to resonate with many women who have lived through similar situations. The guestbook on her obituary is overflowing with comments of people sharing their own stories, as well as promising to honor Ellen's final wish.
According to Buzzfeed News, there's a "well-established history of anti-fat discrimination and bias by both doctors and medical students." In 2003, a study by US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health found that more than 50% of doctors viewed obese patients as "awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant." Another study from the same source in 2014 found 67% of medical students were unaware of their own implicit anti-fat bias.
Michael Orsini, a professor at the University of Ottawa who studies how attitudes toward weight impact policy, spoke to Buzzfeed News about the anti-fat bias in the medical industry. "We as a society associate obesity with poor health, irresponsible behavior, people who are seen as lazy, people who don't care about their health and don't have the willpower to keep their weight at an acceptable level, whatever that level might be."
For people like Ellen, this anti-fat bias can mean life or death. As Ellen's obituary said, she sought medical aid for years before finally being diagnosed with cancer. By the time she was properly diagnosed, it was too late.
Ellen's obituary asks that people remember her "when you next read a great book, go to a play or buy a small object of stunning beauty." Rest in peace, Ellen.