September 22, 2021
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My husband lost his battle in 2015. He was an executive with Bell Globe Media (CTV), and his illness and death was devastating to me and our two children. Six years later our family has learned so much about our own mental health, how to be healthy, how to manage the thinking that can get us into trouble, and how to raise his grandchildren so that they know the story of heredity and grow the tools that he did not…
We had the perfect life.
August 19, 2015 was my 26th wedding anniversary. The previous year, our 25th, had spiraled a sequence of events that punctuated the end that we had all been waiting for. Because when someone you love falls so far out of your reach, at some point all you can do is watch them fall, or turn away, knowing they will meet the end one way or another…
We had the perfect life. Growing up in the same small Saskatchewan town, we started dating in university, and by 20 I found myself married with a young son, following my husband’s dream of working in broadcasting.
The next two decades were like so many other families. Our family grew to four. We purchased a home, our careers evolved, and kids’ activities swallowed up any free time we had. It was truly a great life – we had so much to be thankful for. We were not without worries, but his career gave us many opportunities to attend events and travel, we had many good friends, and I think we had a lot of fun together.
One of the hardest things I have had to do is let go of the life I wanted to have. The dream of growing old with someone I had known for my whole life. Watching our grandchildren grow up. Retiring. Taking care of each other. That was the dream.
A mind that relentlessly exhausted him.
My husband’s story became public after his death. Our son made the decision to speak openly about losing his dad, and the journey that brought about that end, and through his public speaking he became open about his own struggles with mental health. Thoughts of suicide and feelings of emptiness and inadequacy. Struggles with identity. A mind that relentlessly exhausted him.
Many people have now heard him speak, and know that he is always working on his thinking, and understanding the difference between those thoughts and reality. My son’s journey has helped me in so many ways. You see, I am very different from my son. My tendency is to be quiet, sit with my own thinking, and not disturb the world with my worries or problems. I am still very much that way, but my son has helped me take the approach of curiosity with the way I have handled my grief, and reflect on those years before, how I too was becoming very ill, and I did not understand how badly I needed to let out and process everything I had been through, so that I could move on after my husband’s death.
My process started before I lost my husband, on our 25th wedding anniversary, when I went to my first Al Anon meeting. Over the next two years, I attended meetings weekly, sometimes more than once, often just to sit and listen and cry. I did not really appreciate or understand what that space gave me until I was needing it less. I was drawn to the people there, and their stories. I created a routine that was a lot of going through the motions, but looking back it really helped anchor me to my hope that I could come out the other side and be OK.
Looking back on those first few years I could not really see my progress until I had moved far enough that there was a piece of the journey behind me.
His loss is now a part of a brighter future.
We are six years past now. My children have each had their own struggles with losing their dad, but one thing we do a lot of now is talk about him. We talk about his illness, and how long it was a part of our lives. I have asked their forgiveness for raising them in a home that tried so hard to hide its imperfections, hoping they would not see or be affected by the chaos that grew around us. We talk about genetics, and strategies to manage anxiety, feelings of being overwhelmed, and negative self-talk. We talk about healthy choices – what we read, who we spend time with, what we listen to. And we talk openly with their children – his’s grandchildren – about all of these things. We believe that he had certain patterns from childhood. He chose alcohol as a management tool for thoughts that overtook him. Perhaps if he had been able to learn other tools as a young person, he may not have gone down this path. We think this is something we see as a “family trait,” and so want to be sure we do everything we can to set the next generation up to do things differently.
I have hesitated to share my story, but I hope that it can help others who are moving through their journey of grief, to try to pave a new path for the next generations and prevent what is so often a family legacy from consuming them. Our wish is that our grandchildren grow up with a greater understanding of who they are, more resources to access when they are having a hard time, and a normalcy for reaching out and getting help early.
We are still learning, but his loss is now a part of a brighter future. And I think he would really love that.
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