This Saturday is my husband’s 50th birthday. My kids and I will celebrate his birthday the way we have for the last four years. We will hike in the woods to where we buried his ashes, share stories about their dad, laugh and cry a lot. Then we will tie each of their birthday notes to a helium balloon and let it go. On the way back, we will stop at his favorite coffee shop for a hot chocolate and will end the day at the family restaurant we used to go to when they were younger. This is our story and how my husband’s depression changed our lives forever.
My husband and I met when we were both 21. It was my second year living in Canada and I was still learning to speak English. He had just moved back from BC and was working in construction . We met at a week-end seminar about “Starting our own business”. We had very similar personalities, both strong-willed, extremely independent and no desire to work for others. As teenagers, we both had gone thru very tough times, we had so much in common; two lost souls perfect for each other.
We had a very good life, with ups and downs like everybody else. After many years together, we had three beautiful and healthy kids, our dream home , great jobs we enjoyed, good friends and most importantly each other. We loved the holidays and celebrated them the way we wished our parents did with us. He particularly loved Halloween and Christmas time.
Then 9 years ago, my husband’s behaviour started changing. He was not very patient with the kids and I anymore and became very irritable. He started doing a lot of sports on his own; biking, skate skiing or rock climbing and started avoiding family activities. Within a year and a half it got pretty bad and we agreed to take a break for the sake of our family. The environment was no longer healthy for our kids . It was 2010, we had been together for almost 22 years.
It was a really tough time. I never thought I would have to take leave from work but I had to when I hit rock bottom and went into a severe depression. How could this happen to me? I am a very strong person and isn’t depression just for the weak? (I am so sorry I ever thought that way). One of my friend saw how bad I was getting and suggested I talk to a professional. After fighting it for a while, I agreed I needed help. I am so glad I did. This was the best advise I received and I started seeing improvements after just a few weeks. As far as my husband, I assumed he was going thru a midlife crisis and hoped he would get over it quickly and things would get back to normal. We had such a good life.
But it didn’t get better and our lives over the following 3 years were like a roller coaster ride. I had our kids full-time because he was no longer very stable, sometimes he would show up sometimes he wouldn’t. Sometimes he wanted full custody, other times he didn’t even want to see the kids.
By 2011, I knew something was very wrong with my husband. He wasn’t the same man anymore. He finally told me he was being treated for depression. By that time he had alienated most of his friends and didn’t have his parents around anymore so I helped as much as I could. It was hard to keep up with him. He would hate me one minute and then tell me how great of a person and mother I was. Meanwhile I was still trying to keep some sort of a “normal” life for my kids.
In 2013, he entered into a two weeks program to get help for his depression and other mental health issues he was having. At the same time, his financial problems got worse since he wasn’t able to run his business on a day-to-day basis. I thought the program would help him but unless you have someone you can reach out to afterwards , there is little support once you are done.
He did get better for a while but then got much worse. Our daughters’ didn’t want to go to his house anymore but our son still wanted to. When it got really bad, I was still taking him to spend the night at his dad’s, brought food or pizza if he needed me to. Sometimes I think back and realize I may have put my son in danger in trying to be supportive.
The day it all changed
Then on Christmas Day 2013, he was planning to see our son but called to say his truck wasn’t working and he would see him the next day. I offered to drive our son there but he said it was fine and had other plans later. He talked to our son for a while who started crying because he wanted to see his dad so badly. At that point, all I could think about was how selfish and insensitive he was. I was so mad at him.
And then later that day, the worst thing I could have ever imagined happened; the cops were at my door. They asked me to send my kids upstairs, confirmed who I was and if my husband and I were still married. Deep down I think I already knew what they were about to tell me. At that point, I can’t describe how I felt, just writing about it is making me feel sick to my stomach. My husband took his own life on Christmas Day 2013.
It was the most traumatic experience of my life and I had to tell my kids. They were 17, 15 and 12 at the time. As a parent, this is the toughest thing I have ever had to do. I asked them to come downstairs, they knew something was very wrong. The rest of the night was a nightmare. We didn’t have any family in town so some of our friends came over and we just cried all night. Losing a loved one is hard but when they take their own life it makes it even harder to deal with.
People will tell you it gets easier with time. It doesn’t! you learn to live with it. You know you have to do everything possible to move on for your kids sake and your own and that is what you do.
Since losing him, it has been a real emotional roller coaster:
- Anger – I go thru phases were I am so mad at him, for leaving our kids without a dad and for leaving me to be the only parent. It doesn’t make sense but I can’t help it.
- Guilt – You can’t help but feel guilt. People will tell you “it’s not your fault, there is nothing you could have done, he was sick”. It doesn’t help! You keep replaying all those years in your head and trying to remember when you should have noticed it wasn’t a middle crisis? How could you have been that oblivious? Did you make things worse? Could you have done things differently and avoid it all?
- Shame – When you lose someone to suicide, people don’t know how to talk to you anymore. I have lost both my parents to cancer and received lots of calls and notes of condolences. When you lose someone to suicide, there is a stigma attached to it. People are not as comfortable to approach you. What they don’t realize is that it makes it harder for you to deal with it. If you know anybody who has lost a loved one to suicide, talk to them. On person every 40 seconds die due to suicide in the world. (Source: WHO)
- Fear – Sometimes I worry if I don’t hear back from my kids for a while, I always think of the worst.
- “Why”? – You always keep going over the “why” question in your head. I guess it will never go away.
- Extreme sadness – I don’t think this is necessarily specific to the loss of a loved one to depression/suicide. It just hits you once in a while and you get so sad that it becomes almost unbearable.
Life must go on
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you feel, life has to go on and you get up everyday and do what you have to do. What has kept me going?
- My kids. I want my kids to go on with their life and be happy regardless of what has happened to us . They didn’t do anything wrong. Being strong and supportive is the best I can do for them.
- My friends. I lost some and gained some, interesting to find out who your real friends are when tragedy hits you. My “real” friends helped me along the way, from the funeral to cooking, cleaning and just being there for me.
- My work. Being able to take time off as needed without having to worry about the financial impact and going to work to keep my mind busy and sane really helped me.
- My mom. She couldn’t travel at the time because she was very sick (she passed away 18 months later) but she was one phone call away anytime I needed to talk.
- Professional help. You need to know when to get professional help. They are trained to help with those type of situations and can make a big difference in your mental well-being. Make sure you get a referral.
I am so thankful I met my husband and got to spent 22 years of my life with him. Not everybody gets that chance. He was a very loving and caring father and would have done anything for his kids. He was generous, ambitious and a lot of fun. Not someone you would ever think would get into a severe depression and end his own life. Depression can happen to anyone.
In loving memory of my husband who took his own life at the age of 46.
Happy Birthday R. We miss you.
If you think you may be depressed or have suicidal thoughts, talk to someone and get help, here are some of the many resources: