Those with depression sometimes confine their pain, so that others important to them can draw upon their strengths. My wife was such a person, for as long as she could be.
My wife died the winter before last. I suppose I should say she was my ex-wife, since our marriage ended 15 years ago, but we were married for more than 30 years before the divorce, and we were good friends for most of the time after we separated, doing lunch and celebrating family holidays.
There was never another woman in my life, and there probably never will be. In more ways than one, she was a hard act to follow.
We met in college. She was one of the liveliest and most intelligent people I'd ever known. She had a scholar's clear mind and methodical patience, but she also had great enthusiasm -- for ideas, for people, for the world. My mother warned me that she'd be a hard one to catch, but I persisted, and in time persuaded her that we could make a life together.
For five years, we were very happy. We finished our educations, found our places in the world, camped our way across Europe and the American West. When our baby girl was born, we discovered that we were a good parenting team and that we took a great and equal delight in our daughter.
And then, with one little girl in the family and another on the way, something terrible happened. My wife became withdrawn and angry. We found after much counseling that there were no clear reasons for her feelings, and no remedies that worked.
In the years that followed, her withdrawal became despair, her anger became rage. I would hold her for hours as she sobbed, saying that she just wanted to die, she just wanted to be at rest. Or I would come home to a person I didn't know, her face distorted with rage, screaming that I was the worthless man who had ruined her life. In the intervals and as best we could, we carried on our marriage.
The greatest of these intervals was the area of normal family life that by a supreme effort of will she created for our children. Without speaking a word, she enlisted my help in confining the rage and the despair within our relationship and away from our daughters.
Many times I saw her clear her face of hopelessness or fury at the slamming of a door or the calling of her name. We had the most troubled marriage and the best family life that I know of; as a consequence, our daughters are today strong, independent women, with good marriages and happy, useful lives.
She was the best mother I have ever known. She was also a distinguished teacher, an expert and venturesome cook, an active musician, a good friend. I can only imagine what she might have accomplished had not so much of her energy and attention been consumed in fighting her darkness.
Twelve years after the onset, she was diagnosed with depression. She tried many treatments and medications, everything but electroshock. (She said: "I'd rather be depressed and myself than be normal and someone else.") Nothing worked for long.
When our daughters were grown, I began walking away from the rages, and she began to medicate herself with alcohol. We drifted apart, separated, were divorced. Two years after our separation, her rage at an end, we came together again as friends; but the drinking continued.
After her retirement, without classes and students to steady her, she began to drink heavily and to withdraw from the world, even from her family, to protect us, I believe, from what was happening to her. I had not talked to her for two years when I learned that she was at rest.
As a Christian, I believe that farther along I will see the point of her pointless suffering. May God forgive me if I fail to see it now.
To those who say that her drinking was the coward's way out, I say that there was nothing weak or cowardly about her. She was strong and brave and good. For more than 40 years and for the sake of other people, she bore a burden of despair that many of us could not carry for a single day.
To the community, I say that we need to do more to cure depression, a disease that blights and shortens more lives than AIDS.
And to my dear Marian, I will say what I said at the end of every day for 30 years. Good night, sweetheart. See you in the morning.
Michael Nesset teaches English at Century College in White Bear Lake.
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