I met my wife Cyndi in 2001 and within 2 years we were married and starting a family together. When we first met, she was a childcare worker who followed her dream to teach, earning a Master of Special Education degree.
Our first child was born in 2004, and our second 4 years later in 2008. Cyndi was a wonderful mother. She loved and supported our children and created meaningful structure in our home. I lacked her experience with children, but her influence made me a better parent.
Signs that something was wrong
The earliest signs that something was wrong began just a few years after our second child was born (we had been together for about 10 years at this point). At first, they were subtle. She would make comments or ask questions that weren’t appropriate; then she started repeating words and behaviours. Later we discovered that she’d been wandering the neighbourhood and asking to go inside people’s homes.
It finally reached a critical point when a child wandered out of her class at school. Cyndi was teaching grade 1, and she’d always taken her responsibility for the children very seriously. When this incident occurred, it was as if she didn’t care. Her passion for her work was completely at odds with her behaviour. The school was concerned, and so was I.
I was lucky enough to have a connection to a psychiatrist who could see her for testing. Despite the doctor’s efforts and prescribed medications, Cyndi didn’t improve. I worried that her behaviour was unsafe, and I felt powerless to help her. We saw many doctors until, eventually, a gerontologist identified her condition.
A diagnosis we didn’t want to hear
At 35 years old, Cyndi was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.
Her condition was rare and had no cure. It’s said that the younger you are, the faster the disease progresses. Within a few years, my once fiercely independent and driven wife, the centre of our home, could no longer control her own bodily functions. She stopped speaking altogether.
While still in her 30s, Cyndi had to be moved to a facility with 24/7 care. She continued to deteriorate and, in 2017, passed away. The person I had intended to grow old with was gone. Our youngest child has no memories of her, and our oldest has very few.
Healthy Ways to Cope With Grief
What has helped me cope with the loss of my partner and best friend?
Search for meaning
I poured my heart and soul into the organization I founded, Moving Forward, which makes counselling more accessible for everyone. Focusing my energy on creating better support for others in my community has given me an outlet for my grief.
Do things you enjoy
My wife and I had pledged to go on vacation often, so I continued the tradition with our children. I spent as much time with them as I could, going on trips, attending school events, and doing other activities together that got us all out of the house.
Don’t rely on alcohol
Initially, I was drinking wine daily to dull my pain. As my tolerance grew, I would drink increasing amounts. I made a conscious decision to stop drinking so much and so frequently when I realized I was becoming reliant on it.
Connect with friends and family
I appreciated the efforts my friends and family made to spend time with me. Even though I didn’t always feel like going for a walk or getting coffee, it helped to know people were there for me and eager to offer their support.
Talk to someone
It took me a long time to feel like I could open up more about my grief, and that’s okay. When you are ready, talking about your feelings and the person you lost can help, whether with a professional or a friend.
Regular exercise helps me relieve my feelings. Lifting weights works best for me, but whether it’s running, yoga, or anything else, exercise helps release your emotions.
There’s no timeline to grief or healing, so I need to remind myself to have patience with whatever I am feeling. It’s okay to admit if I’m having a rough day, even though it’s been 10 years since I lost my partner. It’s also natural to experience intense moments of grief after all this time.
Practice mindful breathing
I use a tool to slow down and regulate my breathing when I feel overwhelmed with grief or anxiety. It helped to develop a focused mindful breathing practice.
Try non-traditional (not just talk) therapies
Alternative therapies were also beneficial. I’ve tried mindfulness, bio neurofeedback (which measures brain waves and sends positive or negative feedback to your brain), and somatic therapy (which focuses on mind-body exercises).
Go easy on yourself
I’ve learned that grief doesn’t ever really go away, but you do become better at dealing with it. Ups and downs are part of the process, and it’s okay to feel like you’re not making progress at times or even going backwards. It’s about accepting whatever you’re experiencing at the moment.
If you need to talk about the grief you’re experiencing, call or text someone for 24/7 counselling and crisis support at Wellness Together.
Counsellors at Moving Forward are also available to help those unable to pay for counselling services. Moving Forward is an innovative non-profit agency that provides counselling to anyone who needs it in Canada via in-person, online, and over the phone. We offer free short-term and affordable long-term counselling options to fit your unique situation.
What are some things that have helped you to deal with the loss of someone you love? Leave a comment below if you want to share and help other men going through a significant loss.