Um, Exuse me… When does this ache stop and where the hell are the milk duds?!

Walmart. 

The place of late night grocery shopping. The place of sweat pants, messy buns, stained shirts and last minute school supply shoppers. At least, last night anyway, that was me. 

It’s also the place I seem to find myself breaking down …. a lot. 

In Walmart. Again. Awesome. 

I forgot to order my daughter’s school supplies from staples at the end of the school year. Something I regret not doing and something I will never forget to do again. 

Though most of her supples had been gathered hectically the week before at Staples, the crowd was insane, and I felt overwhelmed. I left without the Ficsar scissors and the USB saver thingy(I can never remember the names of these things.. Anthony would be laughing right now) to avoid the elbow bumping, cart smashing, and losing of the child in aisles. 

So, there I was, searching for the thingy and the scissors while gathering some lunch snacks in the grocery section. All of a sudden, it’s as though I’ve been plucked from my present and thrown back in time. I’m unsure of what the trigger was; a smell, a sight, Walmart itself  or the first day of school, but I was having a flashback of my sweet husband on one of our evening shopping trips. 

 No specifics really. Just him running up behind me and smacking my behind like he used to. It infuriated me when he pulled stunts like that in public, at home though, I openly loved his playfulness and flirting.  And, maybe secretly, it really didn’t bother me when we were out and about, but I worried others would see it as inappropriate. 

It felt so real. I could see him.  I swear I felt his swift, large hand smack me and I even laughed for a second. When I realized I was standing alone in the aisle I gasped sharply, and then, my stomach turned. What the hell? Why this? Why now?  And then came the tears. 

Awesome.

I need milk duds. NOW. 

I held back the tears as best I could, anxiously running my hand through my already “crazy lady” dishevelled hair. Milk duds. Where are they? I need to calm myself down and I need the milk duds to do this. 

As inconspicuously as I could I wipe the tears from my face, and continue on filling my cart with the last few items on my list. A well meaning Walmart employee caught my eyes and began to approach me. 

I could imagine the conversation ” Excuse me mam, is there something I can help you with” 

Me: nope. 

Employee: Are you sure? 

Me: Unless you can tell me when this ache stops and where the hell the milk duds are, nope. You cannot help me. Unless you can bring back my husband or at least help me with the jobs he took care of like getting the library card every year, then nope. You cannot help me. Unless you have a bag of milk duds and a bottle of Vodka, nope. You cannot help me. I cannot help me right now. 

The conversation never happened because I ran down the aisle before she could approach. 

They’re probably in the bulk section. 

A stood in front of the orange bulk crates staring at the milk duds. They don’t look that good. I slipped my hand in the bucket and quickly threw one in my mouth… and they certainly didn’t taste that good either. Damn it! I took one last plunge into the chocolate macaroon bin, and decided they weren’t really what I wanted either but they would do the trick. 

Pay. Leave. Eat. Cry. 

About 7 minutes later I found myself in my car in the baron Walmart parking lot full on ugly crying filling my face with chocolate macaroons. 

I miss him. Peter, I miss you. She misses you. Our son misses you. 

Sometimes I feel like if I scream his name over and over again, he might just come back. I want to be back in that moment where I felt him, where he was inappropriately flirting with me in public. I want that moment back so I can feel him again. 

But I can’t go back. I can only move forward, and my daughter needs her things for school tomorrow. 

The next day I get up, we get ready for school and life moves forward. 

It’s been a year since my Firsts post. What I’ve realized and am having difficulty accepting is, this was the second  first day of school without him. Our second anniversary, his second birthday… then there will be thirds, and fourths….. they won’t stop because he is always going to be gone. 

Thank you second year of grief. 

Thank you Bipolar Disorder. 

We’ll just have to keep moving on and through. It just kinda sucks. 

He loved milk duds. 





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 Spring is here..

It’s spring. 

Yay(insert sarcasm here).

Spring symbolizes time of new growth, new life, and change. My son was born in May. I started my degree in May several years ago. We moved into our house on May long weekend, the same one that foreclosed last spring. And then, well, my husband died in spring. New life. Growth. Change. Dead husband… You know, all the good stuff.

D Day is quickly approaching and I feel more uncomfortable with grief now than I did a few months ago, which I understand is normal as we near the one year anniversary of his death. Spring is here to remind me of all that my children and I have lost, what his friends and family have lost in addition to all we have overcome this last year and the small successes we have all made. 

But as much as I want to talk about all that has grown and changed, there is something more about spring that I feel should be addressed. 

Spring also marks a transition out of darkness. Restrictive winter hours have slowly come to an end and our days get longer. People become more energized as the sun sets later each day and people come out of hiding to soak in their much needed vitamin D. We’re more social and engaged, energetic and connected. Flowers blossom, trees and grass turn to green. It’s a beautiful time of year. 

Why then do Suicide rates increase during this time of year? 

In Canada, between 3,600 and 4,000 people die by suicide each year with the highest number of suicides occurring in May(Stats Canada). According to Statistics Canada data from 2000 to 2012 there were an average of 363 deaths in May. Numbers which denounce the myth that Suicide rates increase during winter or the holidays. 

Scientist, psychologists and psychiatrists alike question the correlation between spring and increased suicide rates. 

One theory is those who suffered through depression in the winter, now have the burst of energy they didn’t have in the darkness to set out plans to achieve their goal of suicide. Another is the sun shine, green grass, happier people and happier days, make those struggling feel more isolated and lonely in comparison. 

One hypotheses being tested is the idea that hay fever and allergies cause the brain to swell which causes behavioural changes and contributes to depression(Dr. Teodor Postolache, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine). 

Regardless of the causes, what’s more important is that we are aware of the increase of Suicide rates in Canada(and other countries) during the spring and summer months. As a society, we need to open up and talk about mental health and reach out to those who may be afflicted. 

Please, if this time of year poses a risk for you, and you find yourself having thoughts of taking your life, reach out for help. Call a friend or Crisis Line. Ask for help. Talk to a counsellor, go to your local hospital and know you are not alone. This too shall pass. You’ll get better. You may be low again, but always remember you won’t stay there forever. Recovery is possible. 

It Smacks you in the Kisser … Just make sure you get back up

About 9 months after our daughter was born, Peter and I made a very quick, and somewhat impulsive decision to buy our first home. A 90 year old renovation project that was somewhat over priced and out of our capacity to finish the way it should have been. 

But it was OURS! We were dreamers. We made plans daily and talked about what tile we’d pick for the back splash in our kitchen, or how many sinks we’d put in the bathroom(he cracked and gave me the two!) , or what colour we’d do the siding. 

The weeks leading up to our move in was a living hell, but he carried us through it with his enthusiasm and imagination and hard work. I packed and prepped for the move while caring for the children. In the evening after a hard days work with Daytona Homes, he would eat and immediately leave to our new home and resume the labour needed to scrape wall a paper, mud walls, tear out carpet, and tape for painting. Somedays I’d throw our daughter into a back pack, and our son and I would scrape wall paper til our hands bled to make it easier for him.  One evening I smacked my head hard against the slanted roof and broke down from the pain and exhaustion. He assured me we had made the right decision despite the roof hitting me right in the kisser. Literally, it was blood, sweat and tears. But we were able to get the kids rooms and loft upstairs finished for the move. It was a labour of love and we wanted to show the kids that hard work can pay off. 

Peter taking a break from the renovations
He made me laugh, we danced, shared dusty kisses and sang as we mudded the walls and sanded the trim. We were working our asses off to make our dreams come true. I was just 27. He was 25. That was 8 years ago. 

We’d often find ourselves in hardware stores play arguing over what kitchen cabinets we’d pick eventually or what finishings we could reasonably afford. 

Often I’d find myself frustrated at the lack of progress and finances needed to complete our dream home. He was always able to break things down better than I could. 

He’d focus on a room while I’d obsess about the big picture and work myself up until I thought we’d never get it done. When we finished our room, I came home to find lit candles casting shadows against the freshly painted cream coloured walls and new light fixtures. Finally, we had our sanctuary. 

We never finished that house. It was 3 years later that we started planning to complete the grand dining and living area that greeted us outside our room that the illness officially took hold. 

An impulsive decision to leave his career to start his own business and a 4 month long depression left us in a financial crisis. Then the upswing into mania. I had went out with a friend one evening after a day of arguing and wondering what was going on with him. When I went to pay for my drink, my card was declined. An online check of our joint checking and savings account left me shocked, embarrassed and angry. Over 3000 dollars between both accounts were gone. There was nothing left. It was weeks later before I seen the dent he made on our credit card. 

I came home that night to find my home had become a construction zone. The kitchen full of renovation materials we hadn’t even discussed yet. Saws lain out in the dinnng room. My then 13 year old son on his hands and knees laying out flooring that I had no part in choosing. Trim and wainscoting lined the kitchen floor between stacks of dark vinyl floor tiles. 

My mind could not wrap itself around what was going on. I made him return the unopened flooring in exchange for hard wood, because he had lost the receipt and couldn’t return it. That night he told me he had MS. The realization that he had lost touch with reality hit me as hard as the roof did years earlier. It took me a while to accept how ill he was and not with MS. He was hospitalized two weeks later. 

That flooring would be the last of the purchases towards our renovation project minus a toilet he had found on sale at Costco. We still ventured into hardware stores to talk about the kitchen or bathroom, but I had lost the ambition and drive to keep dreaming. 

Today, for the first time since the beginning of his last manic episode, I found myself in a hardware store running errands for my parents. 

And it hit me right in the kisser…

About 5 steps in the smell of wood and paint filled my nostrils and stopped me dead in my tracks. It felt like I was brought back in time to the Saturdays we would walk hand in hand between the kitchen exhibits and shower stalls. I close my eyes for a second. I haven’t been in a renovation store since. I haven’t needed too. The house is gone. I rent now. He’s not here. He’s dead. Just keep walking.  Don’t look. In and out, quick and easy. 

The tears were just below the surface as I sped walked to the paint section. I scanned the two buckets of wallpaper glue and paid as quickly as possible through the self checkout because I didn’t want someone to ask me how I was. I was great before the grief hit me when I least expected it! 

I got out to the car and as soon as my door was shut I cried. Usually I can anticipate the grief waves and certain triggers. This one came out of nowhere. Like that familiar anvil or feeling of sudden falling. Hard and heavy. I took my time and let it all out. 

Yesterday was the ten month anniversary of his death. The 9th was the day last year the house foreclosed. I had the unfortunate experience of seeing the damage he and his new homeless friends did while manic and in psychosis. In short, all our hard work, destroyed. It was a symbolic resemblance to what Bipolar did to him, me and our life. Destroyed it. 

The house, our house, the one that once was ours – whatever you want to call it, has been bought and gutted. They even sided it the same colours we dreamt of. The rock he hand painted our house number on still stands outside the gate. Rose bushes and lillies I planted decorate the path way in front of the fence. Atleast there is some Residue left of our hard labour and sweat – of my previous life and what is now lost. 

I hope love will bloom in that house again one day. I hope someone avoids getting hit right in the kisser, and can enjoy a life there with someone they love for a long time. 

You can’t always prepare yourself for when reminders come and grief hits. It just happens and it hits hard and hurts bad even on your greatest days. Just like the work we did on the house. We planned and prepped but we weren’t prepared for hitting our heads or for Bipolar. We didn’t anticipate that. Just as with grief, it isn’t fair, it comes with no warning and it will knock you down when you least expect it. Just remember you will stand up again. Slow at first. But you’ll get used to the punches. Even when you don’t want too. 

Loneliness in Widowhood 

There’s something missing. 

It always feels like something is missing. He’s just gone. Nowhere to be found. No coffee cups left on the counter or towels left on the floor, new music being shared and unfinished projects left in the yard. Just quiet. Nothing. 

Even though the last year of his life, during our separation, the reminders of his existence came in the way of calls from the police, fire department, and mutual friends inquiring what was wrong with him; in the chaos they were still reminders of hope and possibility…. now there is nothing. 

It’s lonely. Something always feels amiss, or lost or gone. 

I wake up and do it alone. I go to bed alone. No one to vent to at the end of the day. No after work discussions, and coffee. No drawings of the work he completed that day. I miss him. I miss that something. 

I miss it so desperately because I had it once. 

There is an unspoken loneliness in widowhood. Unspoken because there truly are no words to describe it. Like a huge black space that follows you around and nothing can fill it. Your not sure even what to fill it with and your too exhausted most days to even bother figuring it out. 

You can be out with friends in a room full of people and the loneliness feels like it’s drowning you. You feel better being alone because atleast then you can try to understand it, express it by crying or screaming it out(I’m surprised my pillow hasn’t fallen apart from the beatings it’s taken).That ache in your chest. You can distract and engage in hobbies and sports but after your mind is done focusing on your task at hand, it returns to dwelling on that huge hole in your life that seems to follow you around like a dark cloud – what once was your person, partner and best friend. 

It’s not like a being single kind of lonely. I don’t want to date though sometimes that feels like the answer. It’s misinterpreted, but there are days I feel like going home with someone would be better than going home without him. If that makes sense? A temporary filler for the ache. But I would still just miss him. I’m lonely for him. He can fill that hole and no one else can because he can’t be replaced. 

And what’s worse, is that not only does it feel like he’s been misplaced, I feel completely misplaced. My home now, doesn’t feel like my home even though he never set foot inside. But that was the place I took the calls from emergency services, and made desperate pleas to his psychiatrist and police, and his family, and the nurses… to anyone who would listen. Codependency at its finest. 

I feel misplaced when with friends. We is now I and the language of before he got ill and when he was ill leaves a fowl taste in my mouth. The Anthony before Bipolar Disorder…I find myself seeing my friends with their spouses, and children and I’m so happy for them, but I’m also sad for me. Invites out with couple friends are rare and far between and when the invite is extende do find myself wondering if it is genuine or out of pity? 

I feel misplaced as a parent. Am I screwing them up? Am I enough? Is this trauma going to destroy them? Are they grieving enough or grieving too much? Do they have what they need? Is he proud of us and the decisions we’ve been making? What would he want me to do differently? 

I feel misplaced at work. I’m expected to work at full capacity; after all it has been 10 months. And as understanding as my coworkers have been, I feel like my career was part of my passed life even though I’m still there. I feel like I need a change but I don’t know what that is. 

I feel misplaced because this life doesn’t feel like mine. I didn’t choose this. Because I feel like I have two lives now. One where he was a part of my world and daily life both while well and while ill, and the other this… though right now it feels like I continue to be stuck in the place between my old life and new one. The day he died my next life started, a life without him, yet, here I am wondering what this life is and where I fit in.. 

It’s lonely. A kind of lonely I never knew existed and I’m constantly uncomfortable here. Who am I and where do I belong now? 

I’ll keep moving and working through this loneliness. One day I hope I won’t feel so misplaced. One day maybe I will feel somewhat whole again. I know there will always be a small crack in my heart that will never heal completely, but I’m sure one day I will live in my new life and the loneliness won’t feel so drowning. 


Am I a widow or not? 

The aggravating task of filing taxes had me ready to smash my laptop into pieces of the cheap flooring in my rental duplex. Why is this so Damn difficult! 

“Did you file as separated last year m’am” the annoying voice on the other end of the phone asked so quietly I felt I was squinting my ears just to hear what he was saying. 

“Yes. We were separated. So we filed separate and then he died. We weren’t divorced.” I wanted to add that he left because of mental illness and that I still loved him as though we were married, still together and I wanted him to come home again.  I’m sure the guy from the CRA wouldn’t give two shits about my complicated situation. 

“Then you file separated M’am” he said matter of fact. Not so complicated. 

“Ok. Thanks. So I will file separated and I’m good to go then?”

“Yes, separated.”

Awesome. Separated. I suppose I should be thankful I’m not financially tied to his manic debt, and filing separated prevents any creditors from coming after me, but I feel like something was taken from me by having to pick the separated option under marital status. 

It really is only a question on a digital form… Right? It’s only a circle that’s filled in. Seems simple. 

Emotionally, however, it feels much more complicated than clicking on a circle. So what am I? Am I a widow? Am I the mourning wife or the scorn “separated” ex wife? Do I get a choice in this at all? Does filing separated for the CRA permenantly determine my marital status? What do I tell people when they ask? 

Truthfully, this is part of what has made my grief so complicated. Worrying about what other people are thinking, or what their view of the situation is. What matters, is that I FEEL like a widow. I feel like I became widowed over three years ago at the time of his diagnosis. 

With cancer, you watch your loved ones body fail, slowly, or aggressively, thier organs begin to shut down, their bodies begin to tire until eventually they take their last breath. 

With mental illness, I watched Anthony’s mind die slowly over time. His body was here, but his mind, soul, spirit and who I knew to be my husband, had already left this world. There were times he would come back for a while, but not long after I’d think he was back for good, either depression, mania or psychosis would set in and he’d be gone again. His body was here but his mind had been replaced with someone unrecognizable. 

I started grieving him over three years ago. I was widowed over three years ago. Emotionally, I feel like a widow. 

Three years ago, at the time of his first hospitalization, I started to take care of his usual responsibilities on top of mine.  I learned (yes learned) how to pay our bills and started managing our finances. I measured and planned a fence for our backyard. I learned how to run a lawn mower on my own. When his last manic episode set in and he left, I learned how to do taxes on my own, manage parenting and taking care of the home on my own. Going to doctor appointments, parent teacher interviews, concerts, grad meetings, all of it on my own. I’ve been grieving my husband, my marriage and what was my family for three years. 

Now I’m grieving his death by Suicide. The suicide that symbolized his organs finally shutting down and his taking that last breath. I’m grieving the death of hope for treatment and recovery, of restoration and hopes for a future as a family. I’m grieving never being able to feel him with me, my head on his chest. I’m grieving him cheering for our daughter at soccer and having political conversations with our son. I’m grieving the love we had together before the illness. 

I am a widow. I was more in love with my husband than the day we were married, I just didn’t know where he was. His body was there. He wasn’t. In my heart and head, we were separated because of the illness. 

So, The CRA may say I’m separated, but the grieving I’m doing and the torment I feel, the adjusting and self reflection I’ve had to do, say otherwise.

The photos of our life together say otherwise. 

The pain in my heart definitely says otherwise.

My Promise

“Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday…”

Each day since my beloved’s passing I have tried to think of ways I can grow and learn from this experience. In the beginning, this felt impossible but I was desperate to feel something other than the tremendous amount of guilt, pain and loss I had been feeling. I need to find some meaning in a meaningless act. Maybe starting the conversations about mental illness and suicide can bring relief to others who are suffering, or provide support to the caregivers of those who are affected. As a caregiver I felt alone and isolated. As a man affected by mental illness, my husband did as well.

 In my search for information and attempts at finding relief from the destruction my husband’s  suicide  has caused, I found solace in reading other people’s stories, experiences and challenges. It helped to ease the feeling of isolation. I had felt so alone. Perhaps the most useful advice and helpful information for me came from a man whose wife committed suicide at a young age. His name is Jeffery Jackson. He created the  Survivors of Suicide Handbook(2003) which addresses everything  from the stages of grief, to blame, to the complicated circumstances a suicide survivor faces. If you or someone you love is a survivor of suicide, I recommend reading the Survivors of Suicide Handbook and use the information as one of the tools to use in your steps forward towards healing.

Near the end of the end of the book, he suggests making a pact with your dead loved one by finding  ways, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, to undo the damage the suicide has done to thier lives and to the lives of those impacted.  For me personally, I’m not even close to figuring this out. But, in making that promise to Anthony, the beautifully made man who stole my heart and soul, stood in as a father to my son and with who I created our daughter with, I hope to keep his spirit alive, through me, through his children, and those who loved him for who he was, not what the illness turned him into. I hope that even in the smallest ways, even if it’s just by telling my children how loved they are each day, that I can begin to repair what the suicide has done.

 This pact I made with my husband on our Anniversary, August 27th. We are separated through his death, and though we were separated three days short of 11 months at the time of his passing, I grieve him as though that time never existed. I still love my husband. Since August 27th, since I have made my promise to him, I have been able to wake up with some intention, and purpose. A way to change my thinking about his being gone from this world. I hope that making and keeping this promise will honour my husband and be able to help someone out there who is suffering. Even if it simply helps them to know they are not alone in their circumstances.
 
I promise, Anthony, I will do my best, no matter how big or small, to help to repair the devastation suicide, and mental illness caused in our lives. I told you I got this. I meant it. I love you, to the moon and back.