Alex and Chrissie decided to remember their late spouses on their wedding day by raising money for charity, including Mind.
I had known Ellie since I was 19 and she was 17. We married when I was 22 and she was 20. I had no idea what mental illness really meant back then, but with hindsight it’s clear that she was suffering from depression.
We had a fantastic marriage and three sons, but as Ellie got older her episodes of depression became more frequent and her recovery period took longer. She was hospitalised and sectioned more times than I care to remember, but in 2011 things took a turn for the worse. No medication appeared to be helping. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments worked but only for very short periods of time. Over the next 18 months she made several serious attempts to take her own life and in my head it became not a case of ‘if’ she took her own life, but when.
I compare the path Ellie took, as many others have done, to getting three sevens on a slot machine, where if you get all three you hit the jackpot. One seven is the desire to take your life, the second seven is the means to do it and the third seven is the opportunity to do it. If a person gets all three sevens it’s inevitable that the attempt on their own life that follows will be the final act. At Christmas 2012 Ellie got the three sevens she wanted. Her life was over.
"For a very long time we were just friends, but as our wounds started to heal we moved on together."
After Ellie died I realised I did not want to be alone, but I had no real idea how to move on – we’d been married for 42 years. Eventually I joined an internet website for widows and widowers and that’s where I met Chrissie. Her husband, David, had died from prostate cancer in 2011, one year before Ellie.
For a very long time we were just friends, but as our wounds started to heal we moved on together and started a relationship, eventually deciding to get married.
When we wed in August 2017 we asked our guests to donate to our chosen charities instead of giving us presents. Chrissie chose Prostate Cancer research in memory of her late husband, I chose Mind.
"I chose to raise money for Mind to try and help another person who is suffering and who, with the right help, might recover."
Throughout her illness I’d felt desperate not knowing how to help Ellie. I also didn’t feel like there were enough NHS mental health services available. I was a police officer for over 30 years and saw first-hand how poorly some mental health cases were managed by the emergency and social services. I know things are a lot better now, but it still doesn’t seem like there’s enough support out there. That’s why I chose to raise money for Mind, to try and help another person who is suffering and who, with the right help, might recover.
It’s not an easy badge to wear, knowing your wife has taken her own life, and it’s not something I would openly discuss. Nonetheless I’ve never pretended it didn’t happened nor tried to hide the truth. As far as I’m concerned, there shouldn’t be any stigma around discussing mental health and I’m happy to challenge any attitudes that suggest otherwise.
"It felt good knowing that instead of getting presents we didn’t need, money was being raised for two causes we cared about."
The decision to donate to our chosen charities on our wedding day instead of receiving gifts was easy and our friends and family were supportive of our decision. It felt good knowing that instead of getting presents we didn’t need, money was being raised for two causes we cared about.
One of the strengths of mine and Chrissie’s relationship is that we can be open about our late partners and shed some tears whenever we need to. At our wedding, after the traditional speeches, I drew everyone’s attention to the two charities we were supporting and why. We closed with a toast: “To anyone who you have loved and lost, but particularly today, David & Ellie.”
Take on an active challenge for Mind
When you’re living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, having access to the right information - about a condition, treatment options, or practical issues - is vital. Choose one of the options below to find out more.
Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.