I always assumed I'd become a widow at some point. Women tend to live longer than men, and my husband was 6 years older than me and didn't look after himself terribly well, so the odds were good. But I always assumed I'd be at least in my 60s before that happened.
It happened August 30. I'm 46. A 46 year-old widow, reeling and trying to figure out if this is really real.
Some of you will know that my husband has been ill for some time. He suffered from depression, anxiety, PTSD, alcoholism, Bipolar II, borderline personality disorder, or some combination of those depending on what month it was and what doctor was trying to diagnose him. Bipolar II was his most recent diagnosis, and it seemed to best capture what I saw. Our family doctor gave that diagnosis, for the record, not any of his psychiatrists.
Jim experienced periods of deep depression, followed by periods of what we can now see as mania - spending sprees, grand renovation plans, etc. He has been overcome with anxiety almost constantly over the last number of years. And he grew to hate and hurt himself. He opened up about his illness 2 or 3 years ago, in hopes of both helping himself heal, and helping others. And I think it did help. And I was so proud of him.
Life with Jim has not been easy over the past 4 or 5 years. There were times I felt I couldn't take any more, that I had no more strength left to give him the support he needed, while still looking after myself and our boys. The disease gave him a sometimes cruel tongue, generally directed at me. But that wasn't really him. We stood by him, in for the long haul and praying for his full recovery. We loved him and kept fiercely loving him.
The Jim I fell in love with did still poke his head out from time to time. More in recent months than we'd seen in a long time. My Jim loved music and friends and great food. He was a great drummer and always lit up behind his kit.
He was so intelligent, thoughtful, caring, and had an amazing analytic mind. He was well respected in his field, and rightly so, although in recent years he could no longer see that.
He made me laugh. He made me feel pretty.
He loved our boys to the moon and back and loved opening them up to new experiences and adventures.
Some of my favourite memories are of family dinners with our boys on a Saturday evening. He'd grill amazing steaks and the best garlic bread you'd ever tasted. I'd make salad. We'd have wine and dance around the living room to Andy Williams or Dean Martin. And after dinner we'd make popcorn (if we still had room!) and cuddle up for family movie night.
Jim loved Disney. It was his happy place, and a spot where I always knew I could get him to smile and enjoy life, even if he were down. We were in the process of planning our next trip to Disneyworld when he died. I had actually just booked our resort on Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday morning I went to wake him for work. But he wouldn't wake again. His heart had given out in the night. That huge heart that wrapped us all in love and showed so much caring and generosity to all around him.
The boys and I will take that trip to Disneyworld. We will go and honour their Dad's memory. Ride the rides he loved. Eat at his favourite spots. And he will be with us.
I have two messages for you.
First - never take life and love for granted. Never go to bed angry. Hold your loved ones close and tell them you love them - every day. Tomorrow is not a given.
And second - mental illness is serious and real and nothing to be ashamed of. If you need help, seek it out right away. If you see a loved one showing signs of depression, get them help right away. I knew Jim was struggling way before he was ready to accept it. I tried to get him to talk to our doctor, but I believe he waited too long, and the ensuing toll this illness took on his body was eventually too much. As with any disease, early diagnosis and treatment is critical. Don't wait!
As for me and my boys, we'll be ok. We are taking things day by day and trying to be gentle with ourselves and each other. And we're remembering the good times.